Ah, the steroid era. The days of “Chicks Dig the Longball.” The days of hitting 600-foot home runs with your favorite players on All Star Baseball for Nintendo 64 while chugging down a Capri Sun.
The home-run-happy late-90s and early 2000s led to some eye-popping offensive statistics. Since the offensive stats were so inflated, some have gotten lost in the shuffle over the years– despite being spectacular by today’s standards.
Case in point: Luis Gonzalez’s 2001 season. Gonzalez batted .325/.429/.688 with 57 home runs and 142 RBI that year and helped lead the Diamondbacks to a World Series title. Pretty amazing, right?
On the surface it sounds like everyone would remember that season as one of the greatest for any player ever. On the surface it would be put in the same category with Babe Ruth in 1927, Ted Williams in 1941 or Roger Maris in 1961.
Prior to 1997, only four players had ever hit more than 57 home runs in a season: Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx. All in the Hall of Fame. So you’d figure whoever hits that many home runs would lead the league and be a shoe-in for MVP, right?
Wrong. Gonzo finished third in the home run race, as he did in MVP voting. In fact, he didn’t even receive one first-place MVP vote. He finished behind Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, who each had absurd home run seasons as well. Bonds hit a record 73, which blew Roger Maris’ old mark of 61 out of the water. Sosa hit 64 home runs, making it the third time in four seasons he had 60 home runs. Only eight 60-home runs seasons have taken place in baseball history, so this is arguably the most impressive four-year power stretch in baseball history.
This is a perfect example of how crazy this era of baseball was. Looking back at the National League’s 2001 home run leaderboard today makes it look almost unreal. Bryce Harper’s 42 home runs last year, which lead the National League, would have been seventh in 2001.
Nobody even batted an eye at 57 home runs in 2001. Gonzo finished 16 home runs behind the NL leader and didn’t even get an MVP vote. He did, however, get something in 2001 that Bonds and Sosa never got: a World Series title. Gonzalez ended that season with an iconic hit off of Mariano Rivera that catapulted the Diamondbacks on the map.