'My name is alone': Acuña Jr. becomes rarest member of elite 40-40 club

September 23rd, 2023

WASHINGTON -- expressed his great excitement as he sprinted around the bases faster than he had with any of his previous 39 home runs this year. He proudly crossed the plate as the newest and most unique member of the 40-40 club.

Acuña added yet another historic achievement to his MVP resume, hitting his 40th homer to begin the Braves’ 9-6 win over the Nationals on Friday night at Nationals Park. He can now lay claim to producing the fifth 40-40 season in AL/NL history and the first 40-60 season. With two more stolen bases, he’ll have constructed what had previously been a seemingly unthinkable 40-70 season.

  • Games remaining (8): at WSH (2), vs. CHC (3), vs. WSH (3)
  • Standings update: The Braves (99-55) have clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the National League Division Series. They are the top NL division leader, meaning they would face the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 Wild Card in a five-game NL Division Series starting on Oct. 7.
  • Home-field advantage: The Braves have a four-game lead over the Orioles for MLB’s best record and home-field advantage through the World Series. They have a four-game lead over the Dodgers in the battle for the NL’s best record and home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series.

“It’s incredible,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “You think of how many players have played in the big leagues, and my name is alone. But I’m sure somebody will break that record, too.”

Acuña quickly erased anticipation as he connected off Nationals starter Patrick Corbin with his 34th career leadoff homer. As the line drive headed into the left-field seats, he raced down the first-base line, patted his chest a couple times with his right hand, pumped his fists, extended the team tradition of flapping his wings and pointed to his teammates in the dugout as he rounded third base.

It took Acuña 22.0 seconds to go around the bases. That was 1.8 seconds faster than he completed any previous home run trot this year.  

“Rounding the bases, I don’t know if I was more nervous or excited,” Acuña said.

Acuña joins Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) as the only players to post a 40-40 season. The 46 steals Rodriguez tallied in 1998 had previously stood as the highest total during a 40-homer campaign.

“It’s elite company for sure,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m just glad I’ve had a front-row seat to see it.”

Adding to the splendor of this achievement is the satisfaction that Acuña did this two years removed from the major knee surgery necessitated when he tore his right ACL two days before the 2021 All-Star break. The limitations that remained last year disappeared before the start of this season.

“It’s truly incredible,” Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia said through a translator. “I just hope and pray he stays healthy and is able to accomplish more.”

Acuña had previously become the first player to have 60-plus steals during a 30-homer season. He had also joined Eric Davis (1987) and Bonds (1990) as the only players in the 30-50 club. Before this year, no player had collected more than 52 stolen bases during a 30-homer season.

“I'm gonna be completely honest, I didn't think I was gonna be able to get [40-40] this year just because I knew I was hitting well, but I wasn't really getting a lot of homers,” Acuña said. “So yeah, it feels incredible.”

Acuña exited July with 24 homers and was on pace to hit 37. When he entered a four-game MVP matchup against Mookie Betts and the Dodgers on Aug. 31, he had 29 home runs and was on pace to hit 35. But going head-to-head against Betts seemed to take the Braves outfielder’s game to another level.

From the start of the Dodgers series through Friday’s first at-bat, Acuña homered 11 times in 85 at-bats. That is one homer every 7.7 at-bats.

“He might be blazing trails that nobody will go to again,” Snitker said.

Entering the 40-40 club adds to the splendor of the MVP-caliber season Acuña has produced. He finished three stolen bases shy of becoming a member when he hit 41 homers in 2019.

There have been a lot of near-misses with bids to join the 40-40 club. Acuña now stands with Bonds as the only players to twice have 40-plus homers and 37-plus steals in the same season.

Acuña smiled when he was asked about a video of people from his Venezuelan hometown of La Sabana celebrating his 40th home run.

“I have always wanted to make my people proud, and I feel like I have,” Acuña said.