On Tuesday night, Matt Olson tied the Braves franchise record for home runs in a season, with 51. Trivia time: Whose record did he tie?
Easy one, right? Hank Aaron.
Only that’s the wrong answer: Hank Aaron, the longtime home run king, never hit 50 home runs in a season.
The right answer, as surprising as it seems, isn’t Aaron or his fellow Hall of Famers, Eddie Mathews or Chipper Jones. Olson, in fact, tied the record set by Andruw Jones, the slick-fielding center fielder, who hit 51 in 2005.
That Aaron could get to 755 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 and holding that record until Barry Bonds came along, without ever hitting more than 47 in a season is surely one of the most incredible stats in the game. Instead, Aaron got to his whopping career total with longevity, durability and consistency.
Longevity: Aaron played in the majors from age 20 to age 42. Durability: He had 500 plate appearances in all but three late-career seasons. Consistency: He had eight seasons with 40 or more home runs, tied for the second most behind Ruth, and 15 seasons with 30 or more, tied with Alex Rodriguez for the most ever.
Aaron played in an era when 50-homer seasons were rare. From 1954 to 1976, the years of his career, there were only five such seasons: two by Willie Mays, two by Mickey Mantle and one by Roger Maris. In contrast, there were 12 in the 1990s, 12 in the 2000s and seven since 2010.
As for Olson, the man who surpassed him, his second season in Atlanta has been a career year. In six seasons in and out of the Oakland A’s lineup, he showed home run power but could not always keep his batting average up.
When the Braves signed him last year to replace the popular Freddie Freeman at first base, many fans were concerned. After a forgettable first season (.240, 34 home runs), Olson has quieted the doubters this year.
He has career highs in average (.281) and on-base percentage (.388), and he leads the league in slugging (.619), runs batted in (128) and home runs.
(Not that Freeman has been bad for the Los Angeles Dodgers: He leads the league in on-base percentage at .416.)
How many more home runs can Olson hit this year? Going into Wednesday night, the Braves have 17 games to play. Olson is averaging 0.35 homers a game, putting him on pace to hit six more and reach 57. At the very least, he should get the one homer he needs to surpass Jones and hold the Braves single-season record by himself.
Even if he loses the record to Olson, Jones, considered among the top defensive outfielders in baseball history, will not soon be forgotten by Atlanta’s fans. This year he was named on 58 percent of the ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame, short of the 75 percent required, but close enough to think he will be enshrined sooner rather than later. In 12 years with the Braves, he hit 368 home runs, fifth on the team list behind Aaron, Mathews, Jones and Dale Murphy.
While Bonds divided his 762 home runs between the Pirates and Giants, Aaron played only two seasons for a team other than the Braves. So though he did not hit 50 in a season, and sits behind Olson and Jones on the single-season list, Aaron’s career mark of 733 home runs for a single team looks close to unassailable.