Quick: Who was the last player to hit 60 home runs in a season?

Got it yet?

How about now?

OK, so it’s a bit of a trick question, as not one but two hitters bashed 60-plus homers back in 2001. One, of course, was Barry Bonds, who set the single-season record with 73. The other? Sammy Sosa, who totaled 64.

Of all the incredible performances and amazing statistics to come out of Major League Baseball’s power binge during the 1990s and early 2000s, this may be the most unbelievable: Sosa, in fact, smashed 60 or more homers a record three times—in 1998, 1999 and 2001—and yet how many times did Slammin’ Sammy lead the majors in the category?

That’s right: Zero.

Of course, Sosa was one half of the great home run race of 1998, which culminated with Mark McGwire shattering Roger Maris’ old mark of 61 by mashing 70.

Goes to show you how different the sport was only a little more than a decade ago, huh? Obviously, many of these long-ball exploits, by Sosa, McGwire and others of the era, were inflated by the use of performance-enhancing drugs, at least to some extent. Regardless, the numbers show that in the four seasons from 1998 to 2001, a player hit 60 home runs six times in total and in three of those four years.

In other words, it wasn’t that long ago that the 60-homer season seemed to be a near-annual occurrence in the major leagues. Suffice it to say, baseball fans seemed spoiled by all the 60s in such a short span.

But here are the cold, hard facts when it comes to reaching the big six-oh in the 100-plus-year modern history of the sport:

  1. It has been done just eight times.
  2. It has been done by only five different players.
  3. There have been gaps of 27 years (1900-1927), 34 years (1927-1961) and 37 years (1961-1998).

The current gap, by the way, is 12 years and counting—unless Chris Davis, who has an MLB-leading 48 homers through Friday, goes on a ridiculous run to close out the season.

That being said, though, here’s a chart that should offer some hope on the prospect of seeing 60 again:

In other words, hitters routinely have reached 50 homers—and chased 60—throughout the majority of baseball history.

As for the current day, once Davis hits two more, he’ll join Jose Bautista, who smacked 54 in 2010, as the second 50-homer season of this decade.

Now, 50 is a long way from 60, but it’s certainly in the ballpark and sniffing around. Sure, offense as a whole is down a lot in recent years, but once the sport’s ebb and flow starts shifting back to hitters, it would seem much more likely that someone will become the sixth different hitter to accomplish a 60-homer season.

For the next 60 to happen, the circumstances will need to be just right—a big-time slugger playing at a hitter-friendly home ballpark in a lineup full of other great batters who can help prevent him from being pitched around.

The sad part of all this is that, because of all the PED problems baseball has been through over the past two decades, whoever it winds up being and whenever it winds up happening, that player will face intense scrutiny and questions about whether he’s getting any “illegal help” to hit his home runs. It’s already happened with just about every player who’s hit 50-plus in recent years, including Davis, Bautista and Ryan Howard.

But when it comes to someone reaching 60 home runs again in our lifetime, there’s a good chance Bonds and Sosa won’t be the last.

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