Baseball’s unsung 30-30 men

by Jason Schwartz with support from Paul Proia (South Florida SABR)

It takes a special blend of power and speed to join MLB’s 30-30 club, along with a little bit of luck. After all, we’ve only had about 100 years of baseball where a 30 home run season, even with no steals, would have been considered attainable. Equally, the 30 stolen base plateau is one that at times has felt quite pedestrian but at other times–including the present–has been tough to crack. As SABR member Paul Proia (South Florida chapter) puts it, “When steals were plentiful, power was not. When homers were collected, steals were rare.”

Still, there’s one more element of luck needed, or at least I’m regarding it as luck. After all, it is not enough simply to hit 30 home runs and pilfer 30 bases; the two feats must be accomplished in the same season!

Take the case of Andre Dawson for example. While never a true 30-30 man, was his mix of power and speed any less than 30-30 Club members Ron Gant, Howard Johnson, or Joe Carter? The Hawk three times slugged 30 home runs in his career, including a high of 49 in 1987 with the Cubs. He similarly stole 30 bases three times, including 39 in 1982 with the Expos.

Of course, Dawson is far from baseball’s only asynchronous 30-30 man. Cubs fans need look no further than a Dawson teammate. Ryne Sandberg belted 30 HR in 1989 and 40 in 1990, following a run of five consecutive 30+ SB seasons from 1982-1986. With 54 steals in 1985, Ryno could even be considered a member of the Asynchronous 40-50 Club. Now that’s impressive!

With Paul’s assistance I was able to compile a complete list of MLB’s asynchronous 30-30 men. For brevity, any true 30-30 men have been omitted even if they also have asynchronous 30-30 seasons.

ASYNCHRONOUS 30-30 CLUB

PlayerSeasons with 30+ HR (High)Seasons with 30+ SB (High)
Don Baylor1978, 1979, 1986 (39)1973, 1975, 1976 (52)
Larry Hisle1978 (34)1976 (31)
Andre Dawson1983, 1987, 1991 (49)1979, 1980, 1982 (39)
Ryne Sandberg1989, 1990 (40)1982-1986 (54)
Brady Anderson1996 (50)1992, 1994, 1999 (53)
Steve Finley1996, 1999, 2000 (35)1991, 1992, 1995 (44)
Ray Lankford1997, 1998 (31)1991, 1992, 1996 (44)
Reggie Sanders2001, 2003 (33)1995, 1999 (36)
Mike Cameron2004 (30)1999, 2001, 2002 (38)
Andrew McCutchen2012 (31)2010 (33)

I suspect most baseball fans who haven’t studied the phenomenon will find it surprising that this club did not even exist prior to 1978. While the true 30-30 club already included five players (Ken Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bobby Bonds, and Tommy Harper) the asynchronous 30-30 club resided only in the imagination (and probably not even there!) until Don Baylor went deep for home run number 30 on September 7, 1978. (In the odd world of baseball coincidences, Larry Hisle joined the club the very next day!)

A quick study of the table also reveals a pattern that holds for nine of the ten players. With the exception of Brady Anderson, all completed their final 30 SB season prior to their initial 30 HR season. Oversimplifying a bit, players transitioned from speed to power but never the reverse, slowing down while bulking up.

As we work our way toward the end (already!) of the COVID-shortened 2020 baseball season, we can be fairly sure no new members will join the club this year. With only a 60-game schedule, 30 of anything would be the equivalent of 81 in a normal year. While there were eras where such a number would have been a cinch for steals and even an era 81 home runs might not have seemed impossible, the present era is neither of those.

Reversing the math, 30 of anything in a 162-game schedule pro-rates to just over 11 in 60 games. Should we approach the final weekend of the season and find players sitting on 9 or 10 homers or steals, we might now watch with added suspense, wondering and lamenting over what might have been.

Pre-History of the Asynchronous 30-30 Club

We began this article with a look at two Chicago legends, Hawk and Ryno. While he didn’t quite crack the asynchronous 30-30 Club, it should be noted that THE prototypical speed-power dual threat was another Chicago player.

Yes, Ned Williamson not only bashed 27 (admittedly dubious) home runs in 1884 but stole 45 bases three years later! Top that! Or should we say “Top Hat?!”


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