MiLB Home Run King Heads to the Hall of Fame
Mike Hessman may not be a name all baseball fans know, but they should. In 2015, the Toledo Mud Hens slugger broke the record for most affiliated Minor League Baseball Home Runs, launching a grand slam for number 433 into left at Fifth Third Ballpark.
Hessman played only 109 games in the Majors (Braves, Tigers and Mets), but would play a 19 year career in MiLB, most of which at the Triple A level. In February, Hessman received a call from the International League President, Randy Mobley, congratulating him on induction into the league’s Hall of Fame. Hessman spent 12 seasons in the International League, 7 of which with the Mud Hens. He also holds the record for most International League Home Runs with 288. He was a part of the Mud Hens back to back Championship teams in 2005 and 2006, hitting a combined 52 Home Runs in those seasons.
To put this into context, MiLB Home Run record was previously held by Buzz Arlett, who played 19 seasons (1918-1937), a majority of which with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Arlett was commonly referred to as the “The Babe Ruth of Minors.” This makes Hessman’s record more impressive, as it was previously set nearly 80 years prior. As someone who followed Hessman’s historic season, there were other comparisons made between him and the fictional character, “Crash” Davis, played by Kevin Costner in the classic baseball film Bull Durham. In the movie, Costner’s character is mentioned to have quietly broke the MiLB HR record; “Sporting News picked it up.”
The Mike Hessman story is one that more baseball fans should consider. As pundits and analysts debate the quality of the game’s prospects, breakdown signings and trades, they often forget about the human elements of the game. Beyond the sabermetrics, boys all over America (and abroad) are chasing a dream to become a professional ballplayer. Hessman’s career makes the case that a career in baseball may not result in a World Series win or a plaque in Cooperstown, but that success looks different for everyone. By the way, how many ballplayers have a song written about them? Boston area folk artist Howie Newman wrote “The Ballad of Mike Hessman,” an ode to Hessman’s accomplishments.
After Hessman’s retirement following the 2015 season, he began a coaching career in the Tigers farm system with Connecticut (2016), West Michigan (2017) and now Erie (2018). His impact on the game continues on through the hitters he coaches, whether they go on to careers in the Majors or perhaps even become the next Mike Hessman.