Veteran minor league third baseman Mike Hessman hit his 259th career home run in International League play yesterday, establishing an all-time record for a league that traces its roots back to 1884. The 36-year-old cracked his record-breaking shot off Indianapolis righthander Jake Brigham, pulling the ball to deep left field in the top of the third inning.
Hessman broke the longstanding record held by Ollie Carnegie, who clubbed 258 homers for Buffalo between 1931-41 and ’45.
Signed by the Tigers to a minor league deal in November, Hessman has hit .252/.333/.491 in 64 games at Triple-A Toledo this season. His 15 homers rank second in the IL, while his ratio of one longball every 15.07 at-bats leads all league batters. Stuck on 258 homers for a month, Hessman hadn’t gone deep since May 30 prior to yesterday’s clout.
A 15th-round pick of the Braves in 1996 out of Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., Hessman appeared in just 48 games with Atlanta before signing with the Tigers as a minor league free agent following the 2004 season. Though he also spent time in the Mets, Astros and Reds systems—not to mention one year in Japan—he has wreaked the most havoc while with Detroit’s top affiliate, where he spent 2005-09 before returning this season.
According to a club press release, Hessman holds Toledo franchise records for home runs, RBIs, runs, doubles and hits, and he won the league’s MVP award while with the Mud Hens in 2007, when he led the IL with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. He also led the Pacific Coat League with 35 homers in 2012 while at Oklahoma City.
Hessman brings more than plus power to the organization that signs him each year. His continued employment speaks to his strong makeup, clubhouse presence and positive influence on younger players. Moreover, he continues to see virtually all of his action at third base, at an age when most Triple-A sluggers have migrated to first base or DH.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense. It’s one of the main factors that I keep working hard at,” Hessman told me in 2008 as he readied to participate in the Beijing Olympics. “You know, you don’t see a lot of 6-foot-5 third basemen anymore, so I take a lot of pride in going out there in being able to go out there and play my position.”
According to the aforementioned Toledo press release, Hessman ranks third all time with 404 career home runs in the American minor leagues—but that total doesn’t count the 14 he hit in the majors or six he hit in Japan. Here are the top 10 minor league sluggers: