Commentary

Top 10 individual seasons in baseball history

ESPN.com baseball writer Rob Neyer lists the top 10 individual seasons in baseball history.

Originally Published: January 9, 2008
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

In the spirit of the occasion, below you'll find this writer's choices for the 10 best individual seasons in major league history. One could make such a list and ignore just about everybody except Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth, and both figure prominently below. But I did consciously look for a mix of positions and eras, which is why you'll find a couple of pitchers in the mix (oh, and I did consider postseason performance, mostly as a tiebreaker).

1. Barry Bonds, 2001
Say what you want, but Bonds broke Mark McGwire's home run record and Babe Ruth's slugging-percentage record. Oh, and he broke Ruth's single-season walks record, too. Essentially, 2001 was when Bonds began to displace the Babe as the game's most devastating hitter.

2. Babe Ruth, 1921
How do you follow up two record-setting seasons? But setting another, of course. In '21, Ruth somehow topped himself by hitting 59 homers, more than eight teams in the major leagues hit that season. Among his various league-leading stats were a career-high 177 runs scored. And even after all these years, his 457 total bases still stands as the single-season record.

3. Barry Bonds, 2002
He played in only 143 games and hit only 46 homers (down from 73 the previous season). But Bonds put doubts about his clutch hitting to rest forever with brilliant performances throughout the postseason.

4. Babe Ruth, 1920
Still an outfielder/pitcher in 1919, Ruth shocked the sport by hitting 29 home runs. The Babe's new record lasted less than one year, as he blasted 54 homers after joining the Yankees in 1920.

5. Mickey Mantle, 1956
A hint of what Mantle might have done without all the injuries: Only 24, Mantle hit 52 homers and batted .353 on his way to the Triple Crown. All while playing brilliantly in center field.

6. Honus Wagner, 1908
On their surface, Wagner's numbers -- including his .354 batting average and .542 slugging percentage, both National League bests -- don't look all that special, as Wagner enjoyed a bunch of great seasons. But this was the deadest season in the dead ball era. And Wagner also was a great defensive shortstop.

7. Ted Williams, 1941
No, he didn't win the MVP Award; that went to Joe DiMaggio. All Williams did, at the tender age of 22, was hit .406 and draw 147 walks. That was 67 years ago and nobody has hit .400 since.

8. Pedro Martinez, 1999
In a year in which American League pitchers combined for a 4.86 ERA, Martinez posted a 2.07 ERA that was nearly a run-and-a-half lower than the No. 2 man on the list. He also won 23 of 27 regular-season decisions before chucking 17 scoreless innings in the playoffs.

9. Babe Ruth, 1923
Rarely mentioned among the Babe's greatest seasons is 1923, but he batted a career-high .393, led the American League in every meaningful hitting stat, and hit three homers against the Giants as the Yankees won their first world championship.

10. Lefty Grove, 1931
Grove, perhaps the most dominant pitcher between Walter Johnson and Pedro Martinez, went 31-4 with the lowest ERA (2.06) of his brilliant career, then beat the Cardinals twice in the World Series.

Rob Neyer writes for ESPN Insider and his blog for ESPN.com. You can reach him via rob.neyer@dig.com. His most recent book ("Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders") is available everywhere.