Kevin Mitchell’s Home Run Peak

Kevin Mitchell showed great baserunning in his first full season with the New York Mets, taking multiple bases in a play that would ultimately keep the team in a game long enough to win the 1986 World Series. His hard-charging style is celebrated in his best looking card, which appears in the 1987 Topps set.

Two years after this card was produced he won the National League MVP award while powering the San Francisco Giants to the World Series. Helping his case for MVP was his swatting 47 home runs. That’s high enough for fans to round up to 50, and 50 is close enough to Roger Maris and Babe Ruth to make people take notice.

Mitchell ended up with 234 home runs over the course of his career, a total seemingly too small for the giant slugger. His 1989 total represents more than 20% of his lifetime tally. I pulled up a list of every ballplayer to hit at least 47 home runs in a season and compared their highest single season total to their career numbers. Mitchell’s 20% ranks fifth among all retired players, with his highwater mark trailing only Mark Trumbo (22%), Roger Maris (22%), Hack Wilson (23%), and fellow ’93 Finest checklist member Brady Anderson (24%).

It’s not like Mitchell’s skills fell off a cliff. He simply aged and accumulated a series of knee injuries that ate away at his playing time. He finished his career with a .380 wOBA, indicating his bat was just as potent as longer-lived players like David Justice and Rafael Palmeiro.

My in-progress refractor set passed the 30% completion mark with the addition of this card. Mitchell is appearing for the first time in a Cincinnati Reds uniform after having been traded from the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Norm Charlton. Charlton’s card, for its part, is made interesting by this transaction due to the fact that Topps snagged a photo of him in a Seattle uniform but failed to change the team name appearing on the back of the card.