They stood the moment they heard the sound of the bat. You can see fans behind the third-base dugout at Coors Field rise to their feet as Pete Alonso crushed his 49th home run for the Mets on Wednesday.
The ball cut high and deep through an afternoon sky in Colorado and eventually landed somewhere on the other side of Tampa Bay lore.
How far did it go? That’s up to you to decide.
Was it as majestic as Wade Boggs’ .363 batting average in 1987? As impressive as Steve Garvey’s MVP award in 1974? As historic as Dwight Gooden’s pitching Triple Crown in 1985?
Just where does Alonso’s record-setting rookie performance fit in the pantheon of memorable seasons by Tampa Bay area prep products?
It’s easy to take our history for granted. To forget Alonso, of Plant High, will likely be our fifth Rookie of the Year. Not to mention the MVP and Cy Young winners. Or the Hall of Famers.
So why not, on the 50th anniversary of Lou Piniella’s Rookie of the Year award for the Royals, celebrate and rank the greatest individual seasons by bay area products.
10. Howard Johnson, 1989 New York Mets (Clearwater High)
At the time he joined the 30-30 club (at least 30 homers and 30 stolen bases) in 1987, Johnson was only the seventh player in history to achieve the feat. Two years later, he upped the stakes with a 30-40 season, hitting 36 homers with 41 stolen bases and finishing fifth in MVP voting.
9. Steve Garvey, 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers (Chamberlain High)
He would go on to have better seasons in both Los Angeles and San Diego, but his ’74 season (.312, 21 HR, 111 RBIs) remains the only MVP award ever won by a Tampa Bay area product.
8. Pete Alonso, 2019 New York Mets (Plant High)
He’s already set the National League rookie record for home runs at 49, and now has 10 games to match Aaron Judge’s MLB record at 52.
7. Bill Freehan, 1968 Detroit Tigers (Bishop Barry/St. Petersburg Catholic)
The numbers look puny today (.263, 25 HR, 84 RBIs) but this was the year pitching dominated baseball. As a Gold Glove catcher, Freehan finished second to 31-game winner Denny McLain in the MVP voting.
6. Tino Martinez, 1997 New York Yankees (Jefferson High)
A .296 average with 44 homers and 141 RBIs for a team that included three Hall of Famers (Boggs, Tim Raines, Mariano Rivera) and will soon have one more (Derek Jeter).
5. Fred McGriff, 1994 Atlanta Braves (Jefferson High)
Everyone remembers the Expos and Tony Gwynn both lost shots at history because of the strike-shortened ’94 season, but McGriff also got shortchanged.
He was hitting .318 with 34 homers and an outstanding 1.012 OPS when the season was cut short. At the pace he was going, McGriff would have finished with a career-high 48 homers. That would have put him over 500 for his career and significantly boosted his Hall of Fame argument.
4. Gary Sheffield, 1996 Marlins (Hillsborough High)
It’s difficult to choose which Sheffield season should be considered his best. He finished in the top 10 of MVP voting six different times and made nine All-Star teams during his career.
He hit .314 with 42 homers and 120 RBIs in ’96 (which were not career highs in any of those categories), but also drew 142 walks for a league-leading .465 on-base percentage.
3. Luis Gonzalez, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (Jefferson High)
It’s often overlooked because baseball’s offensive numbers exploded during this era, but Gonzalez hit .325 with 57 homers and 142 RBIs while helping lead Arizona to a World Series title.
His combined on-base/slugging percentage (OPS) of 1.117 is among the top 12 in history for a player with more than 700 plate appearances.
2. Wade Boggs, 1987 Boston Red Sox (Plant High)
Already a three-time batting champion, Boggs added a new component for the Sox in ’87. While winning his fourth batting title with a .363 average, Boggs also hit a career-high 24 homers.
He was the first player since Lou Gehrig in 1934 to hit over .360 with more than 20 homers, 200 hits and 100 walks in the same season.
1. Dwight Gooden, 1985 New York Mets (Hillsborough High)
This wasn’t just the greatest season of a Tampa Bay area player, it was one of the greatest pitching performances in the history of the game.
It’s hard to describe just how electric Gooden was in the summer of “85. He was the biggest name in New York and in baseball, and would soon grace the cover of Time magazine.
He led the league in wins (24), ERA (1.53) and strikeouts (268). And he was just 20 years old. According to baseballreference.com, it was the fourth best pitching performance of the 20th century (12.2 WAR), behind two seasons by Walter Johnson and one by Cy Young.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.