Think of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and the year 1961 comes to mind.
Think of Willie Kirkland, Willie Tasby, Ken Hunt and Steve Bilko, and what might come to mind is, "Who?"
Mantle and Maris' pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record, 60 in a season, overshadowed a host of other exploits in 1961, the first year of baseball's first expansion.
But although the feats of Kirkland, Tasby, Hunt and Bilko didn't match the magnitude of Maris' 61 home runs, they achieved brief, shining moments.
"There were an awful lot of guys who were sitting in triple-A that there were no spots for with the eight-team league," said Hunt, who hit 25 home runs and drove in 84 runs for the Los Angeles Angels but injured his shoulder in 1962 and was out of baseball by 1965.
"Expansion opened up spots for them. It was my chance. I was 25, 26 years old. I wasn't going to get another chance."
Eagerness to seize the moment explains Hunt's fine season, Tasby's career highs of 17 home runs and 63 RBIs for the expansion Washington Senators, and Bilko's 20 homers and 59 RBIs for the Angels.
But that doesn't explain why those players never again approached those levels. And it doesn't explain why a number of statistical oddities cropped up in the American League in 1961, when some good hitters experienced moments of greatness and some ordinary players had extraordinary seasons:
--Detroit first baseman Norm Cash hit .361 with 41 home runs and 132 RBIs. He had hit .286 in 1960, his first full season with the Tigers, a solid performance, but gave no hint that he would make a 75-point jump to the highest batting average of the decade. Cash, who hit .243 in 1962, spent 17 seasons in the major leagues and had a .271 career average.
--Johnny Blanchard of the New York Yankees, who shared playing time with Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, hit .305 in 93 games with 21 homers and 54 RBIs, all career bests. He had hit .242 in 1960 and dipped back to .232 in 1962.
--Jimmy Piersall, then with Cleveland, hit .322 in 1961, exceeding his career average by 50 points. He hit .244 in 1962 with Washington.
--Chicago White Sox center fielder Jim Landis, who had hit .253 in 1960, then hit .283 with a career-high 22 home runs and 85 RBIs in 1961. He hit .228 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs in 1962.
--Kirkland, who drove in 65 runs for the San Francisco Giants in 1960, had 95 RBIs in 1961 for the Cleveland Indians. He reverted to 72 RBIs the next season and 47 in 1963.
--Jim Gentile, long stuck behind Gil Hodges in the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm system, hit .302 with 46 homers and 141 RBIs for the 1961 Baltimore Orioles. Five of his homers were grand slams. His RBI total remains the club record. In 1962, he hit .251, with 33 homers and 87 RBIs.
"I was a .260 hitter and I ended a .260 hitter," said Gentile, now retired and living in Edmond, Okla. "I averaged 20 to 25 homers a year except for that one great year. It was just one of those things where everything seemed to go right for me."
Led by the Yankees' 240 home runs, the 10-team American League produced 1,534 in 1961. That is an average of more than 153 a team, a huge increase over the 1960 average of 136. Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, the Angels' home in their first season, inflated the 1961 totals by 248.
"It disturbed the status quo somewhat," Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's official statistician, said of the one-time minor league park.
Metropolitan Stadium, where the original Washington Senators moved in 1961 after becoming the Minnesota Twins, was the site of 181 homers. Still, Siwoff and other statisticians believe the home run bounty in 1961 was "no great disparity" for that era.
Said Donald Coffin, chairman of the statistical analysis committee for the Society for American Baseball Research: "Homers were up 10% from 1955 to 1960, with a bulge in 1961. Then you add Wrigley Field, where Steve Bilko, for God's sake, hit 28."
Bilko had been a prolific home run hitter in the Pacific Coast League.
"Sometimes things like that go in cycles. Baseball at that time was adding home run hitters, like Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda. It was a sort of burst, and there's no rational explanation."
While home runs surged, the American League batting average went up only one point from 1960 to 1961, from .255 to .256. The National League, which didn't expand to 10 teams until 1962, had a greater increase in its batting average, from 1960 to '61, from .255 to .262.
"When you have expansion, you have both hitters and pitchers added who are worse than the hitters and pitchers in the league," Coffin said. "It diluted both sides of the equation. But you might expect a greater variation in performance (instead of an overall rise). You might have had more people in '61 who had career years, but that's probably more likely than saying the pitching got worse."