So, when it came time to put together my first Stat Kings post on the baseball side of things, I thought 2004 would be a great place to start. Though I was still a rabid sports fan in '04, I wasn't collecting cards, so this was also a great chance for me to pick up some cardboard from an era that's somewhat unfamiliar to me. With one exception, every 2004 card in today's post came courtesy of COMC, and I don't think I paid more than 75 cents for any one of them.
For your enjoyment, today I've got the 2004 MLB batting leaders for you (top 20), in cardboard format of course! As was the case with the first couple of Stat Kings hockey posts I did, there were some names that I expected, and others that were total surprises. Let's get started...
#20 - Scott Rolen - St. Louis Cardinals - .314 Average
Kicking things off is third baseman Scott Rolen, who hit .314 in 2004. I always forget just how good Scott was. He was the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, was a 7x All-Star and 8x Gold Glove winner, and captured a World Series with the Cards in 2006.
2004 was without a doubt his finest season at the plate. His .314 average was a career high, as were 34 home runs, 124 RBI, and 1.007 OPS. He finished fourth in NL MVP voting, the highest he would ever place.
#19 - Mark Kotsay - Oakland Athletics - .314 Average
Here's a name I was very surprised to see, outfielder Mark Kotsay, who also hit .314 in 2004. This was Kotsay's highest single season average by a long shot, in fact it was the only time over the course of his 17-year career that he even topped .300. It's statistical anomalies like this one that make this Stat Kings series enjoyable.
#18 - Johnny Estrada - Atlanta Braves - .314 Average
Here's another name I would never have guessed. Estrada was a 17th round pick who managed to carve out an 8-year MLB career. He achieved career highs in almost every single offensive category in '04, and was named an All-Star and Gold Glove winner for the only times in his career.
#17 - Javy Lopez - Baltimore Orioles - .316 Average
I always think of Javy Lopez, the talented Puerto Rican catcher, as a member of the dominating Braves teams of the '90s, but by 2004 he was winding down his career in Baltimore (he actually finished with a very brief stint with the Red Sox in '06). Even at 33 years of age, he still managed to swat .316 in '04, good for 17th in the league.
#16 - Lance Berkman - Houston Astros - .316 Average
Lance Berkman was a 6x All-Star who won Comeback Player of the Year (and a World Series) in 2011 with the Cardinals. Berkman could hit for both average and power, and his .316 mark in 2004 was actually the second best season of his career as far as batting average goes. He registered over 100 RBI in 2004 as well, one of six times he'd achieve that stat!
#15 - Aramis Ramirez - Chicago Cubs - .318 Average
Maybe it's because he played his entire career in the National League, and I'm more of an AL guy, but I didn't realize just how good a hitter Aramis Ramirez was until assembling this post. While his .318 average in 2004 was a career high, it certainly wasn't abnormal, as Ramirez topped .300 seven different times. He could put up big power numbers as well, as he topped 100 RBI in a season seven times also, and finished with close to 400 career home runs.
#14 - Carlos Guillen - Detroit Tigers - .318 Average
Carlos Guillen missed the final month of the 2004 season with an injury, but the .318 he batted before going down was enough to land him on this list. '04 was the first time he was selected as an All-Star, and kicked off an impressive 5-year span in which he hit .318, .320, .320, .296 and .286. Not too shabby!
#13 - Jason Kendall - Pittsburgh Pirates - .319 Average
Longtime Pirates catcher Jason Kendall was known as a contact hitter, and he certainly lived up to that in '04 when he had 183 hits en route to a .319 average. Not bad for a guy who also had to handle catching duty for 146 games! Jason cleared .300 half a dozen times over the course of his career, and had 180 or more hits during three separate seasons.
#12 - Erubiel Durazo - Oakland Athletics - .321 Average
Of the twenty players in today's post, Erubiel Durazo may have been the most surprising to me. He lasted just seven years in the Majors, and was a part-time player for all but two of those seasons. His .321 average in 2004 was a full 40 points better than his overall career average. He surpassed 20 home runs for the second straight year as well, and set a career high with 88 RBI. It's remarkable that he played just 41 more games total after that impressive season before retiring.
#11 - Sean Casey - Cincinnati Reds - .324 Average
"The Mayor", Sean Casey, never had trouble putting the bat on the ball over the course of his career, which started with the Indians in 1997 and ended with the Red Sox in 2008. In fact, he finished with more than 1,500 career hits in just 1,405 games played for a career batting average of .302. I was pumped to be able to grab this beautiful Topps Chrome Black Refractor for use in this post for just 65 cents.
#10 - Juan Pierre - Florida Marlins - .326 Average
Now we crack into the top ten with Marlins speedster Juan Pierre, who appeared in all 162 games for the second of five consecutive seasons in 2004! Pierre's 748 plate appearances were tops in the National League; same goes for his 221 hits. I'm sure plenty of those were infield hits legged out by the speedy Pierre. This was right in the midst of a 6-year stretch during which Juan surpassed 200 hits four times!
#9 - Albert Pujols - St. Louis Cardinals - .331 Average
Here's a name that should surprise nobody. Albert's career was really just getting underway at this point. He really cemented his spot in Cooperstown right out of the gate, hitting better than .300 with more than 30 doubles, more than 30 home runs, and more than 100 RBI in each of his first ten seasons! Just insane. I was drawn to this particular card based on the sweet retro uniform.
#8 - Ivan Rodriguez - Detroit Tigers - .334 Average
In the #8 spot is one of the best hitting catchers that the game has ever seen in Ivan Rodriguez. He'll get his plaque in Cooperstown later this year, and deservedly so. 2004 was Ivan's 14th year in the league, and his first with the Detroit Tigers. While he'd still have some good seasons afterwards, '04 might be his last truly great season, as his average dropped a full 58 points in 2005.
#7 - Adrian Beltre - Los Angeles Dodgers - .334 Average
Here's another guy that I think everyone has come to realize is bound for the HOF. 2004 will likely go down as his best season ever; his .334 average is a career high, same with his insane 1.017 OPS. Oh yeah, and he also paced the league with 48 home runs. He finished second in NL MVP voting to a player we'll see further down the list here.
#6 - Mark Loretta - San Diego Padres - .335 Average
Most of the surprises on this list come in the upper half, but if I had to pick a player in the top ten that shocked me while putting this post together it would be Mark Loretta, hands down. Not only was 2004 his best season average-wise, but it was his best as far as power goes as well. He set career highs in doubles (47), home runs (16) and RBI (76), was selected as an All-Star, captured a Silver Slugger Award, and even got a few MVP votes for the only time in his career.
#5 - Vladimir Guerrero - Anaheim Angels - .337 Average
In 2004 Vlad Guerrero did what he did just about every season of his career, absolutely pummeled opposing pitching. He ran away with the AL MVP this season, accumulating 206 hits, 39 home runs and 126 RBI. He came tantalizingly close to registering an OPS greater than 1.000, which would have been the fourth time he'd done so. For most players this would be a season to remember, for Guerrero it was just another season.
#4 - Melvin Mora - Baltimore Orioles - .340 Average
After a few years spent as a "super utility" player, the Orioles made Melvin Mora their permanent third baseman in 2004. He responded with the best season of his career, setting statistical highs in most offensive categories and making himself known as the most feared hitter in Baltimore's lineup. His .340 average was good for second in the American League.
#3 - Todd Helton - Colorado Rockies - .347 Average
The 2004 season was the last of a 6-year stretch during which Todd Helton was basically regularly batting .330 or above and could be counted on for between 30 and 50 home runs and 100 RBI or more. It was the fifth straight year that he was selected as an NL All-Star, and the fifth straight year that he received at least some NL MVP votes as well. One of the best pure hitters of his era, Todd finished with an impressive .316 career batting average.
#2 - Barry Bonds - San Francisco Giants - .362 Average
The second best average posted in 2004 belongs to everyone's favorite villain, Barry Bonds. Barry was right in the middle of his "enhanced" run of insane, video-game-like statistics at this point in his career. He would capture the National League MVP for the fourth straight season in 2004. Barry swatted .362 in '04 despite recording only 135 hits, as he was walked an insane 232 times.
At age 39, he posted the best OPS in baseball history in 2004. It's amazing what those steroids can do, huh? I read Game of Shadows, the book that broke down Bonds and the BALCO scandal, cover to cover a few years back and used to really detest the guy. I've softened on him over time though, and he doesn't really bother me that much any more. Chalk it up to getting older I guess. By the way, what a great card this is, hats off to Donruss for this one.
#1 - Ichiro Suzuki - Seattle Mariners - .372 Average
At last we've made it to #1, and your 2004 Major League batting champion, Ichiro Suzuki. In his fourth season in the league, Ichiro broke the record for hits in a single season with 262! This is a mark that still stands well over a decade later, and probably will for quite some time. His .372 average that year is a career high as well (he's still playing at age 43, but will obviously never approach that number again), and one of four times that he would top .350 in a campaign.
Suzuki is an absolute lock for induction whenever he decides to hang up the spikes. I'm glad that he received an appropriately awesome card in 2004; thanks to a cameo from Mr. Met this is easily my favorite card in this entire post (RIP Upper Deck!).
So, there you have it, your 2004 MLB batting leaders! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together.