Congratulations to Mike Hessman with a Nod to Willis Otanez
Mike Hessman just hit his 400th minor league home run, making him only the fourth player to hit 400 dingers in the U.S./Canadian minor leagues. He joins Buzz Arlett (432) [note that Baseball Reference’s minor league stats for Arlett are incomplete; I used SABR’s Minor League Baseball Stars, Vol. 1, 1984 Ed. for these stats], Nick “Tomato Face” Cullop (420) and Merv Connors (400) in this select group.
Hessman is now within striking distance of Buzz Arlett, although how much longer Hessman can continue to play in the AAA International League remains to be seen. Major league clubs don’t keep 36-year-old-plus players around in their organizations to break minor league home run records. If Hessman is cut loose by MLB before he reaches 433 career minor league home runs, I hope he’ll be willing to play in the Independent-A Atlantic League to break Arlett’s record, even though he’d have to take a big pay cut to do it.
However, it is worth noting that Hessman, despite his impressive accomplish, is not even the active North American minor league home run leader. That distinction goes to former Oriole and Blue Jay Willis Otanez, who has hit at least 407 minor league home runs to date (Baseball Reference does not provide stats for the 2004 Mexican League season).
Otanez, who is originally from Puerto Rico and is now age 41, is one of a number of Latin and American players who have been able to play for years and years in the Mexican League after their careers in MLB organizations ended. Since 2002, Otanez has been splitting time between the Mexican League and the Atlantic League each season, I assume playing in Mexico until that season ends and then coming up north for the end of the Atlantic League season (the Atlantic League has a longer schedule).
I presume also that after he finishes out the Atlantic League season, Otanez then plays winter ball in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic (where he attended a baseball training academy as a teen), or back in Mexico. It sounds to me like a pretty good baseball life, at least so long as his body holds out.
At least two other active Mexican League veterans have also hit more than 300 minor league home runs: Ruben Rivera (327) and John Lindsey (307). I am also nearly certain that Robert Saucedo is another member of that exclusive club.
As far as I am aware, the all-time North American minor league home run leader is still Hector Espino, who hit a total of 484 HRs, most of them in Mexico. I’d say that of Willis Otanez and Mike Hessman, Hessman has the better chance of breaking Espino’s career record because he’s five years younger than Otanez. This is particularly the case if Hessman were willing to extend his career in the Mexican League, where sluggers can play into their 40’s and where home runs are relatively easy to come by.
One day I hope that Baseball Reference, or some other website, will provide not only complete minor league statistics, but also complete statistics for Japan’s NPB, South Korea’s KBO, Taiwan’s CBPL, Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and the major winter leagues in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, and possibly even Panama, Nicaragua, Brazil, Columbia, and Australia. The information is out there for those determined to find it, and in a few years, if not already, large websites will be able to store and provide all such data without a problem.
Then we’d really have a better idea of which players have hit the most professional home runs.