It seems only fitting that Joe Bauman achieved his greatest fame in Roswell, N.M., before choosing to live out his life in the town that is better known for UFOs than slugging first basemen.
Bauman, who was 83, died on Tuesday of complications from a fall he suffered on Aug. 11 during a ceremony to rename Fair Park as Joe Bauman Stadium. He suffered a broken pelvis during the fall and developed pneumonia, which led to his passing.
While Roswell has gained fame over the last six decades as the place where men from Mars come to roost, it was Bauman's accomplishment in 1954 that was truly out of this world. A career Minor Leaguer, Bauman set the professional baseball record of 72 home runs while playing in the Longhorn League, a record that stood until Barry Bonds eclipsed it in 2001.
Bauman's mark, however, remains the Minor League standard, just ahead of the 69 that Joe Hauser hit for Minneapolis of the American Association in 1933 and Bob Crues belted for Amarillo of the West Texas-New Mexico league in 1948. His .916 slugging percentage is also the highest in Minor League history.
In addition, Bauman drove in an astounding 224 runs in '54, second most in Minor League history behind the 254 Crues drove in during the '48 season. Bauman also scored 188 runs that year, good enough for seventh on the all-time Minor League list.
He hit .337 over a Minor League career that spanned nine years and 1,019 games, though it was interrupted for four years by World War II. With a sweet left-handed swing, Bauman collected four home run titles during his career, though he never played much above Class A ball. He blasted 103 homers for Artesia in 1952-53, prompting his promotion to Roswell, where he also hit .400 for the Rockets to win the league's Triple Crown in '54.
"I'm proud of it [the record], even if it's just Minor League trivia," Bauman told The Associated Press in a 1995 story.
Minor League Baseball also named an award Bauman to honor his accomplishment. The Joe Bauman Trophy is given out annually at the Winter Meetings to the player who leads the Minor Leagues in home runs.
"The award meant an awful lot to him," Bauman's widow, Dorothy, told MiLB.com. "He was always interested in the young players and what they were doing. He'd read all the magazines and try to keep posted on what everyone was doing. He was very happy to know the young players were still fighting to win and were hitting home runs."
Brandon Wood, who blasted 43 homers this year, most of which was spent with Class A Rancho Cucamonga of the California League, was this year's overall home run leader and will be presented with a check for $8,600 ($200 for each homer).
Mike Moore is the president and chief operating officer of the National Association of Professional Leagues, the governing body of Minor League ball. He was instrumental in getting the award named after Bauman.
"I always had a lot of respect for him and what he accomplished and the type of person he was," Moore said. "This is a great way to honor him. I never met him in person. I only spoke with him on the phone. I always thought Joe was a great human-interest story. We got his approval before we put his name on it, and he was very excited about it. He thought it was an honor.
"I think anyone who hits 72 home runs in one season, especially in those days, is quite an accomplishment, one that should be remembered and recognized."