Home run leaders have historic age gap

Take a look at the Major League leaders in home runs entering Sunday’s games, and you’ll see quite the juxtaposition. The co-leaders so far this season are 21-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. and 40-year-old Nelson Cruz — with 13 each.
If that wide age gap feels notable, it’s because it is.

Take a look at the Major League leaders in home runs entering Sunday’s games, and you’ll see quite the juxtaposition. The co-leaders so far this season are 21-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. and 40-year-old Nelson Cruz — with 13 each.

If that wide age gap feels notable, it’s because it is. This is the first time in the Modern Era (since 1900) that two players aged 21 or younger and 40 or older have been tied for the Major League lead in home runs to start a day, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (minimum five HRs).

2020 MLB stats leaders

Cruz is the first 40-year-old to have a share of the MLB lead in homers since 1958, according to Elias (min. five HRs). Hank Sauer, who was 40 years old at the time, led the Majors with seven homers through April 29, 1958. Since then, no 40-year-old had done it — until now.

Cruz is just five years younger than Tatis’ father, Fernando Tatis Sr. Cruz didn’t debut in the Majors until he was 25 years old, a bit on the older side these days, but he did appear in four Major League seasons that Tatis Sr. played in — 2006, 2008-10 — and now, he’s tied for the Major League lead in homers with Tatis Sr.’s son.

When Cruz made his debut on Sept. 17, 2005, Tatis was just 6 years old. Now, the Padres star is already in his second Major League season.

There are still plenty of games left to be played, but if either player was to lead the Majors in homers for the entire year, it’d be historic. Only two players 21 or younger have led the Majors in home runs: Eddie Mathews, with 47 home runs in 1953 at age 21; and Sam Crawford, with 16 home runs in 1901, also at 21.

Tatis will be 21 years and 269 days old on the final day of the season this year. That would make him the second-youngest player to lead the Majors in home runs, specifically, if he were to do it — younger than Mathews, who was 21 years and 349 days old on the last day of the 1953 season, but older than Crawford, who was 21 years and 171 days old when the 1901 campaign wrapped up, according to Elias.

It’s also worth noting, though not age-related, that the Padres have never had a player lead the Majors in home runs. In fact, they’ve only had one player even lead the National League — Fred McGriff, with 35 in 1992.

For Cruz, the list is shorter: no player has led the Majors in home runs in a season where he was at least 40 years old on the last day of that season, according to Elias.

The oldest player to lead the Majors in homers was 38-year-old Darrell Evans in 1985, with 40. He was 38 years and 133 days old when the 1985 regular season concluded. Only one player has even finished top two in the Majors in home runs at 39, let alone 40 — 39-year-old Barry Bonds in 2003.

There’s still just under a month left to go, but both sluggers have put up strong showings so far. By the end of the season, we may have a particularly historic home run champ.

Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.

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