He’s a former Dodgers first baseman who wore the number 23. He was a moderate power bat that had consistent numbers until he was traded for a former teammate. Before that happened though, he broke the all-time record for home runs by a Dodger. A Los Angeles Dodger that is.
Of course, I’m talking about Eric Karros and his record of 270 home runs over 11 seasons. He surpassed Ron Cey 18 years ago, and since then it’s a record that has never come close to being broken.
This might be surprising to even die-hard fans. I texted a few friends who fit that description and asked who they thought the home run leader might be. Some guesses were good and some were bad, but none of them had even considered Karros a possibility.
Eric Karros is a Dodgers’ record holder, and it’s a fairly significant record at that. But when fans were asked by the Los Angeles Times to rank their top 10 all-time Dodgers, Karros only received four votes. Now I’m not saying he necessarily belongs on a top ten list, but I think it is pretty shocking that the guy who has hit more home runs while playing for Los Angeles than anyone else, and third most in the entire history of the franchise, only received four votes…out of 14,000!
It’s clear Karros isn’t included in most conversations about Dodgers legends. He never made a single All-Star Game appearance in his 14-season career. So how has he managed to hold on to such a record for nearly two decades? To answer that question we first have to explore how he even claimed the top spot in the first place.
To start off, 270 home runs is nothing to shake a stick at. That’s a lot of long-balls, and Karros ranks 166th all-time. That’s out of thousands upon thousands of players who have ever played major league baseball. But over his 12 years with the Dodgers, he shared a clubhouse with some impressive power hitters. Mike Piazza (427), Gary Sheffield (509), Shawn Green (328), and Adrian Beltre (462) all hit way more dingers than Karros. Like Karros, Piazza and Beltre both started their careers in LA. Hold on to either one for longer than the Dodgers did and they would absolutely be on top.
So honestly, Karros’ place in the record books has just as much to do with his longevity as his talent. He fit right into a sweet spot for budget-conscious teams. He was valuable enough to keep around but not too expensive to stress over declining performance at the end of a big contract. Karros was a great hitter. The way he held the bat made it seem like it was light as a feather in his hands. His swing was as clean and sweet as anyone who’s played the game. It is incredibly difficult to be a consistent hitter in the big leagues, but he was and he probably deserves more credit as a player than he receives.
So how long will he reign? This coming season will be the 18th since a knock into the left-field pavilion etched his name into the record books and no one has neared his mark since.
Matt Kemp is the closest out of active players currently on the Dodgers roster. He has hit 182 dingers in Dodger blue, a deficit of 88. He is unlikely to make it up, given his declining power and a tenuous roster spot. Yasiel Puig is the next player behind Kemp. With 85 home runs over 5-seasons, Puig is well behind Karros’ pace. It is possible for Puig to reach the 270 mark if he continues to improve at the plate. If he does reach 270, I still find it unlikely that he will hit all of them in a Dodgers uniform considering the trade speculation that’s always hanging over his head.
Karros’ record is safe for now, but if I had to put money on who I thought would one day surpass him I would probably put it on another Rookie-of-the-Year first baseman, Cody Bellinger. His 1 season is too small of a sample size to accurately predict if and when he will take the crown as LA’s all-time home run king, but I hope he does. I also hope he’s around long enough to surpass Duke Snider and become the franchise record holder.
I hope several players end up passing Karros, not because I think the record is actually that meaningful for winning games, but because it would mean that the Dodgers have finally gotten used to holding on to consistent, productive, home-grown talent, turning them into franchise players. No dynasty has ever ruled baseball without such a core of players, and the Dodgers have that chance now.
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