The primary job of a leadoff hitter is to get on base so his teammates can drive him in. Of course, the batter atop a lineup also simply can start things off by driving himself in, too.
After all, there’s no better way for an offense to open a game than with a leadoff home run.
Such a feat has become a little more common in recent years as homers have surged across the sport, but leadoff long balls still remain rare overall. To wit, the first season in history with triple digit leadoff four-baggers was 1999 -- when exactly 100 were hit across both leagues -- and the four highest totals all came in the four years from 2016-19, capped by a record 193 in '19, before the shortened '20 season ended that streak.
With that league-wide context in place, here’s the natural next question: Which individual players have led off a game by going yard most often in their career in the regular season?
The answer reveals a list of fun, well-known names, including plenty of All-Stars as well as some current and future Hall of Famers.
1) Rickey Henderson: 81
Most lists involving leadoff feats tend to, well, lead off with Henderson, so it’s no surprise that the Hall of Famer, stolen base king and greatest leadoff hitter in history can be found in his usual No. 1 spot when it comes to most career leadoff home runs.
Henderson’s single-season high in this category came when he hit nine with the Yankees in 1986, which also was the year he totaled a career-high 28 homers, a number he matched with the A’s in 1990.
What’s most incredible about Henderson’s 81 game-starting dingers is how many more he has than anyone else. That’s partly because Henderson played forever -- his 3,081 games rank fourth highest all time -- and also because unlike a number of the others below, he stayed in the leadoff spot his entire career. Henderson racked up 13,122 plate appearances atop the order and didn’t reach even 100 plate appearances in any other lineup position.
One other way to express how impressive Henderson’s career total is? The famously nomadic superstar played for nine different teams in his 25-year career, and while he hit at least one leadoff blast in every season -- including at age 44 in 2003 -- the 43 leadoff homers he smashed over parts of 14 seasons with just the A’s (a club record) would rank eighth on this list.
2) Alfonso Soriano: 54
If Soriano, whose 412 home runs are the most of anyone in this Top 10 rundown, had stayed in the top spot in the order for a longer portion of his career, he might have had a chance at getting within sniffing distance of Henderson.
After making a name for himself as a slugging spark plug leadoff batter early on, however, Soriano spent large chunks of his playing days in the heart of the order, where his aggressive approach was a more appropriate fit.
Nevertheless, Soriano owns MLB’s single-season record with 13 leadoff homers for the 2003 Yankees. He also hammered another dozen with the 2007 Cubs (as part of his franchise-best 22 with Chicago) and nine more with the Nationals a season before that.
3) Craig Biggio: 53
A Hall of Famer who spent all 20 years of his career with the Astros, Biggio took his leadoff duties to heart by famously putting his body in harm’s way and getting hit by 285 pitches -- a modern-day mark that trails only Hughie Jennings’ 287 HBPs in baseball history.
Biggio also produced plenty of pop with 291 career taters, including 53 of the leadoff variety. His single-season high of eight leadoff homers in 2001 stood as the franchise mark for 16 years until it was broken by a player lower on this list. Biggio, however, still owns the club’s career record.
4) Ian Kinsler: 48
Coincidentally, Kinsler is one of three players to retire after 2019 who crack this Top 10 list. He hung ’em up at age 37 after an injury plagued year with the Padres in which he failed to hit a leadoff homer for the first time since 2007, the second of his 14-year career.
Kinsler’s high of eight such long balls in 2016 is the Tigers’ single-season record, and he also hit seven apiece in ’09, ’11 and ’12 with the Rangers, giving him a share of another club’s mark in the category (Shin-Soo Choo, 2019) and putting him atop Texas’ career total with 29.
5) Curtis Granderson: 47
Granderson joined Kinsler in saying goodbye after 2019, but not before he started 47 games by saying hello with a homer.
Granderson likely would have placed higher on this ranking, but he didn’t hit a single leadoff shot during his stint with the Yankees from 2010-13 -- despite topping 40 taters in both ’11 and ’12 -- because New York utilized Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner in the No. 1 spot in the lineup.
While he never notched more than seven leadoff homers in any season, he hit that mark four different times, in 2007 and ’09 with the Tigers (as part of his franchise-best 24 with Detroit) and again in back-to-back years with the Mets in ’15 and ’16, which is the club’s single-season record.
6) Jimmy Rollins: 46
A switch-hitter, Rollins registered a high of nine leadoff homers in 2007 on his way to winning NL MVP honors with Philadelphia. That figure is the highest single-season total in Phillies history, and Rollins’ 46 career leadoff homers with Philly also is the club record.
It’s fitting, too, that Rollins follows Granderson here, since both players joined the extremely exclusive 20-20-20-20 club by reaching that mark in doubles, triples, homers and steals in ’07.
7) Brady Anderson: 44
Anderson made his MLB debut in 1988 with the Red Sox -- he would be traded that year, along with Curt Schilling, to the O’s for righty Mike Boddicker -- but didn’t hit his first leadoff long ball until 1992.
Four years later, he broke out with a stunning ’96 career campaign in which he bashed a whopping 50 total dingers, including a personal- and franchise-best 12 leadoff homers. He also set a record by crushing a leadoff homer in four straight games that April.
While Anderson never again approached that figure in terms of overall homers, he did go on to tally seven leadoff jacks in consecutive years in 1999 and 2000, leading to a Baltimore franchise record of 44.
8) George Springer: 39
As alluded to in the Biggio blurb above, Springer established the Astros’ single-season mark by going off for 12 leadoff blasts in ’19. Considering he took over Houston’s leadoff duties for good in late May 2016, Springer has racked up his career total in a short span, having added nine in ’17 and eight more in ’16, too.
While he’s one of just three active players to make this list (check below), it’ll be interesting to see if Springer continues to get opportunities to bat out of the top spot -- and thus boost his leadoff homer total -- in the second half of his career. If so, he could climb quickly.
9) Ichiro Suzuki: 37
Like Kinsler and Granderson, Ichiro also officially retired in 2019 after playing the first two games of the season with the Mariners in his native Japan.
Known much more for his prowess as a contact hitter with an uncanny ability to slash singles all over the field, the future Hall of Famer never topped five leadoff homers in any of his 19 seasons in MLB. He did hit that mark twice, though, with Seattle in 2002 and ’05 -- a number that remains the club’s single-season record. As for the franchise’s career mark? Ichiro’s 37 leadoff shots are far and away the most; no other Mariners player has hit more than five.
10) tie -- Charlie Blackmon and Shin-Soo Choo: 36
Joining Springer as the only others to crack the top 10 on this list who still are playing, Blackmon and Choo have taken different paths to being tied here.
Blackmon has played his whole career in Colorado. His single-season high of 10 leadoff homers came in 2016, setting the Rockies’ record, and he also smacked six apiece in ’15, ’17 and ’19. Add it all up and his 36 (and counting) leave Eric Young Sr.’s eight in the dust when it comes to the club’s career tally.
Choo, on the other hand, has racked up leadoff dingers with three different clubs: five with Cleveland (all in ’12), six with Cincinnati (all in ’13) and 25 with Texas (every year from ’14-’20). That latter figure ranks behind only Kinsler’s 29 in Rangers history.