We all know that Barry Bonds is the single season home run king, although many believe that it’s still Roger Maris because of Bonds’ suspected steroid usage. And we all know that Lefty Grove and Denny McClain own the record for most pitcher wins in a season, with 31. These are all stats that are so gaudy and superhuman that some people believe that they might not be topped.
But what if I told you that years ago, minor league players who never reached the big time reached these celestial heights, and few people know anything about them?
Joe Bauman and Kelly Jack Swift are names that many baseball fans have never heard, and few remember except for the history buffs or lovers of obscure trivia. However, both Bauman and Swift did things that we may never see again in the minors, and deserve to be remembered, especially when one considers the period they accomplished these feats.
Bauman is the better known of the two. Every year, the minor leagues give out an award named after him to the minor league player who hits the most home runs. Winners of this award include Ryan Howard and Kris Bryant. Way back in 1954, Bauman had what might be one of the best seasons ever in professional baseball, major or minor league.
Joe Bauman played first base for many teams in and around the southwestern United States, and in 1954 he suited up for the Roswell Rockets. He had in seasons prior hit 38 and 53 homers, but in ’54 he hit an astonishing 72 home runs! Remember, in 1954 the major league home run record was still owned by Babe Ruth, who hit 60. Bauman hit 12 more home runs than The Babe!
Bauman not only demolished the ball on a regular basis, but he also carried a .400 average. By comparison, NL batting title winner Willie Mays carried a .354. This isn’t to say that Bauman was a better slugger than Mays, but this is an accomplishment that speaks to the type of season he had.
Kelly Jack Swift, by comparison, is not as well known even among hardcore baseball fanatics and students of the game. Swift is the last documented 30 game winner in the minor leagues. While McClain and Grove have 31 to their names, Swift’s accomplishment is all the more amazing due to his overall ERA, the era in which he accomplished this feat, and the circumstances surrounding it.
Swift was in his mid-30s, a minor league lifer, who worked as a farmer when he wasn’t playing minor league ball in the struggling Tar Heel League in the early 1950s. Tall, strong, with a blistering fastball but not much control, Swift was unable to reach the majors because of circumstances (and the lack of a pitch other than his average high-90s fastball) that occurred due to the post-war glut of talent in the minors.
Swift’s 1953 season with the Marion Marauders was, like Joe Bauman’s, one of the finest outings that a player has had in professional baseball. Swift pitched nearly other day, finishing with 30 wins and 7 losses in his 52 appearances, not to mention coming in relief on a regular basis as well. He pitched 207 innings that year and had 321 strikeouts. He was the finisher in 48 of his 52 games, and did all of this while maintaining an ERA of 2.54.
Sadly, Kelly Jack Swift died about ten years later at the age of 44. Joe Bauman, on the other hand, lived a long life until he passed away in 2005.