In his 19th season in minor league baseball, Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens has officially been crowned the king of the long ball. His seventh inning grand slam Monday night in front of the Toledo faithful was the 433rd home run of his minor league career, which passed Buzz Arlett for the all-time affiliated minor league home run record. Already the all-time home run leader in the International League, Hessman's latest homer is the crown jewel of his storied MiLB career.
At 37 years old, Hessman has played for three major league teams and has been in five different organizations during his career. A native of Santa Ana, California, he was drafted out of high school in the fifteenth round of the 1996 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves. Primarily a third baseman in the field, Hessman was a powerful presence in the lineup right from the start in minor league baseball.
Despite below average numbers in nearly every offensive category, Hessman had one tool that stood out among all the others: power. He hit at least 20 home runs in four of his first five full seasons, with 19 homers in his first season in Double-A Chattanooga. The 2014 Baseball Prospectus Handbook summed up Mike Hessman quite well with this gem of a line: "Mike Hessman is what materialized when baseball scientists asked, "What if it’s possible to achieve higher than 80 power by giving the specimen 20s everywhere else?"" For those unfamiliar with how talent scouts grade baseball players, an 80 is the highest mark, and a 20 is the lowest mark.
Still, his gaudy home run numbers caught the eyes of the Braves' front office. Hessman earned a call up to Atlanta in 2003, making his MLB debut on August 22nd against the Colorado Rockies. In the top half of the seventh inning with the Braves leading 8-3, Hessman's name was called by Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox to pinch hit for Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux. No, Hessman did not hit a home run in his first at bat. Rather, he grounded into a 4-3 double play.
Hessman would go on to hit two home runs in 2003, and then only 12 more in his brief major league career. He played in parts of five seasons with the Braves, the Detroit Tigers, and the New York Mets, totaling exactly 250 career plate appearances. With the Tigers, Hessman played in 29 total games between 2007-2008, hitting nine homers, and was the last player to wear the jersey number "24" before Miguel Cabrera showed up on the scene.
Every kid that plays baseball growing up dreams of playing in front of the tall buildings for a major league team. Little leaguers look up to MLB legends like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron to model their games after. Rarely does a kid look up to a minor league player like he or she does to a major league player. The reasons for this are obvious and make perfect sense. Major League players are the best in the world and receive the publicity that comes along with that. However, while Derek Jeter was chasing 3,000 hits under the bright lights of the Bronx, Mike Hessman was chasing a different record under the bleak lights of minor league baseball.
In a profession where the legends play under the bright lights, Hessman has defied the odds to become a legend of minor league baseball. In 2005, he signed a minor league contract with Detroit and reported to Triple-A Toledo. Hess quickly became a fan favorite at the beautiful Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo, as he launched a career high 28 home runs to lead the Mud Hens to an International League championship. Despite hitting .165 in 2006, he still hit 24 home runs for Toledo as they won their second straight Governor's Cup. While Toledo failed to three-peat in 2007, Hessman would hit his 68th home run as a Mud Hen, passing Erve Beck as the franchise's all-time home run leader. His Toledo record earned him the nickname "King Hessman," which has stuck ever since. He would also earn the honor of International League MVP that year.
In 2010, Hessman would leave Toledo for the New York Mets' organization, where he got back to the big leagues, but spent the majority of the season in Triple-A Buffalo. In 2011, he would sign a contract to play with the Orix Buffaloes in the Japanese Pacific League where he hit six home runs in 33 games. After returning stateside in 2012, Hessman bounced around between the Astros' and Reds' organizations before reclaiming his throne in Toledo prior to the 2014 season.
Now, with his latest home run, Mike Hessman has solidified himself not only as the king of Toledo baseball, but as the king of minor league baseball. In a league that's always changing, where players either move up or move out, Mike Hessman hitting home runs has remained a constant, even at age 37. After countless hours at the field, thousands of miles worth of bus rides, and a million comparisons to Crash Davis of the film Bull Durham, Hessman's record chase is over.
Buzz Arlett's home run record stood for nearly 80 years. With the season not over yet, Hessman has a chance to add to the 433 he's already hit in his polarizing career. Will his record ever be broken? With no other active players even close, and the direction professional baseball is moving with players either moving up to the majors or hanging up the spikes early, Hessman's home run record might stand the test of time. Regardless, in route to becoming a minor league legend, Mike "King" Hessman has officially claimed his throne at the top of the all time affiliated minor league home run list.