Shortest players to lead their league in homers
When you look at the imposing Giancarlo Stanton (6-foot-6) and Aaron Judge (6-foot-7), it makes a lot of sense that they led their respective league in homers last season.
But when it comes to shows of prodigious power, don't count out the little guy.
Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez, one of the rising superstars of the game, is embroiled in a furious race with J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox and Khris Davis of the A's for the American League home run crown with a little less than two months to go in the season.
While they're not quite Jose Altuve (5-foot-6) or Ozzie Albies (5-foot-8), the 5-foot-9 Ramirez (33 homers) and 5-foot-10 Davis (32) have made outsized contributions to highlight reels all season long, powering past the big guys in twin bids to become, as it turns out, one of the shortest players in MLB history to lead his league in homers.
As you'll soon see, they have some fine company. Read on to learn about the 10 shortest league home run champions of the live ball era (since 1920).
Hack Wilson, 5-foot-6
1926, '27, '28, '30
Despite being the shortest player on this list, it would be quite misleading to call Wilson "diminutive." Weighing in at a robust 190 pounds, Wilson, nicknamed "Hack" due to his resemblance to wrestler and strongman Georg Hackenschmidt, reportedly boasted an 18-inch neck and a "barrel-shaped chest," more than making up for his lack of height with his considerable heft, larger-than-life personality and prolific performance on the field.
In his six seasons with the Cubs, Wilson led the National League in homers four times, highlighted by a monstrous 1930 campaign (aided by a livened ball) in which he recorded a single-season Major League record 191 RBIs and foreshadowed the advent of the "three true outcomes" hitter by more than half a century, leading the league in homers (56), strikeouts (84) and walks (105) while hitting .356.
Wilson's 56 homers in 1930 stood as an NL record for a remarkable 68 years until it was finally broken by Mark McGwire (11 inches taller than Wilson) in his 70-homer campaign in 1998. Through those intervening generations, prolific sluggers like Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt often came close in the Senior Circuit, but they always fell short of Wilson's record.
Mel Ott, 5-foot-9
1932, '34, '36, '37, '38, '42
After Wilson's relatively short-lived career came to an end in the early 1930s (he was a heavy drinker and reported to Spring Training 20 pounds overweight in 1931), Ott emerged as one of the premier power hitters of the NL in the ensuing two decades, leading the league in homers six times during his 22-year career with the New York Giants. He led the Giants in homers for an astonishing 18 consecutive seasons from 1928-45.
Ott made up for his lack of stature with an exaggerated leg kick that added power to his left-handed swing, though the short right-field porch at the Polo Grounds (258 feet down the line) undoubtedly boosted his power numbers as well. Opposing pitchers frequently pitched around Ott -- he led the league in walks six times, and surpassed 100 free passes 10 times in his career.
A 12-time All-Star inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1951, Ott became the NL's leader in career home runs in 1937 at age 28 (passing Rogers Hornsby), and his 511 homers remained an NL record until he was surpassed by Mays. Ott is 25th on the all-time home runs list.
Ripper Collins, 5-foot-9
Collins isn't one of the most recognizable names on this list -- aside from his standout 1934 campaign, in which he tied Ott for the NL lead in homers with 35 and finished sixth in MVP Award voting -- but the St. Louis first baseman had a solid but unremarkable career, amassing 135 homers and 659 RBIs in parts of nine Major League seasons.
Reportedly nicknamed "Ripper" after he once tore the cover on a ball by hitting it into an exposed nail on the outfield fence in his youth, Collins hit double-digit homers in seven seasons and won the World Series with the Cardinals in 1931 and '34.
Kevin Mitchell, 5-foot-10
Mitchell was a journeyman outfielder and third baseman who played for eight teams in his solid 13-year Major League career, becoming most famous for a highlight-reel catch in 1989 while playing left field for the Giants, in which he overran a foul ball off the bat of Ozzie Smith but reached back to make a barehanded catch.
But that 1989 season was special at the plate as well. Everything seemed to click for Mitchell, who more than doubled his previous season high in homers from 22 to 47 as he led the Senior Circuit in homers, RBIs and slugging to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. He finished third in the NL in homers in 1990 with 35, but he only touched 30 homers in a season once more in his final seven seasons.
Willie Mays, 5-foot-10
1955, '62, '64, '65
With 660 career homers, a first-ballot Hall of Fame election, two NL Most Valuable Player Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards and 24 All-Star Game appearances in his storied 22-year career, the Say Hey Kid is perhaps baseball's greatest example of a physically small player blessed with prodigious power.
Despite being listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Mays is fifth on the all-time homers list behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez. Somewhat surprisingly, he only led the NL in homers four times despite exceeding 35 homers 10 times in his career, racking up his homer total through his health and longevity.
From his first career homer in 1951 (off Hall of Famer Warren Spahn) to his final long ball 22 years later, the majority of Mays' homers were pulled, but he was known for his ability to adjust his swing to provide power to all fields, with 186 of his 660 homers going to center or to the right of center. Baseball may never again see a diminutive power hitter like Mays.
Al Rosen, 5-foot-10
It took the future Giants general manager until his fourth Major League season to secure regular playing time. Perhaps the Cleveland Indians should have turned to him sooner.
Rosen didn't hit a homer across 35 combined games in his first three seasons, but as a 26-year-old rookie in 1950, Rosen crashed onto the scene with a league-leading 37 long balls (better than Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams), setting an AL rookie record that stood until McGwire topped it with the Oakland A's in '87.
But the finest year of the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Rosen's career came in 1953, when he narrowly missed the AL Triple Crown and won his only AL Most Valuable Player Award with a league-leading 43 homers and 145 RBIs. He hit a career-best .336 that season, losing the batting title by one point to Mickey Vernon of the Washington Senators. Rosen is Cleveland's last AL MVP Award winner.
Tommy Holmes, 5-foot-10
And here we enter the World War II phase of this list. With many of the sport's stars -- including Williams, Stan Musial and DiMaggio -- serving in the armed forces in the early 1940s, numerous less established players were given the opportunity to showcase their talents, opening the door for players like Holmes to produce standout numbers.
Holmes, an outfielder, played all but one of his 11 seasons with the Boston Braves, and he hit a career-best 28 homers in 1945, also leading the NL in hits, doubles and slugging. He finished second in both the MVP Award and batting title races to Phil Cavarretta of the Cubs.
With most of the Major Leagues' premier talent returning for the 1946 season, Holmes' homer total dipped to six, and he never again reached double digits in his final seven years. His 88 career homers are the fewest on this list.
Vern Stephens, 5-foot-10
Though Stephens was also a fine power hitter in the late 1940s following the return of wartime ballplayers, topping out at 39 homers and a league-leading 159 RBIs in '49, his power prime unfortunately coincided with the profound success of both Williams and DiMaggio, who traded the league's home run crown from 1947-49.
That meant that Stephens' lone home run title came in 1945, with a comparatively paltry total of 24 roundtrippers. He was known for his standout power from what was, at the time, a light-hitting shortstop position.
Stephens' 24 homers in 1945 were the most in a single season in baseball history by a shortstop to that point, and prior to his retirement in '55, he had the four highest such single-season totals by a shortstop in the Major Leagues. (Ernie Banks then promptly hit 44 roundtrippers in '55.)
Dolph Camilli, 5-foot-10
One of the more consistent power hitters of the late 1930s and early '40s, Camilli, a first baseman, spent the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies and Brooklyn Dodgers, and he played a major role in the Dodgers' worst-to-first turnaround from his acquisition in 1938 to winning the NL pennant in '41.
Camilli's career year in 1941 spurred that World Series push, as he led the NL with career highs in homers (34) and RBIs (120) en route to winning his only NL Most Valuable Player Award. It wasn't enough to give the Dodgers the crown, though -- they lost the World Series in five games to the Yankees.
Camilli's ferocious power swing helped him post at least 20 homers in eight consecutive seasons from 1935-42, but he also led the league in strikeouts four times, including a career-high 115 in his 1941 MVP Award-winning season.
Joe Medwick, 5-foot-10
A left fielder who collected 2,471 hits in his 17-year Hall of Fame career, Medwick saw his power leave him for the most part after his age-29 season. But through his 20s, he posted nine straight seasons of at least 14 homers, including his NL Triple Crown campaign in 1937 (the last Triple Crown in the NL).
During that 1937 season, Medwick led the league in hits (237), runs (111), homers (31), RBIs (154), batting average (.374) and doubles (56), garnering the NL Most Valuable Player Award with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was better known for his prowess in hitting doubles -- his 63 two-baggers in 1934 remain an NL record to this day, threatened most recently by Colorado's Todd Helton (59) in 2000.
Medwick was nicknamed "Ducky" by the public for his burly stature and his somewhat awkward gait -- to his teammates, he insisted on being called "Muscles."