Home runs are coming thick and fast in 2019. This year, MLB batters are on pace to hit some 6,500 home runs, which would beat the previous record, set in 2017, by about 400. Drilling down to the individual level, the home run leaderboards are populated mostly by familiar faces like Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, and Gary Sánchez, and highly touted prospects like Peter Alonso.
But mixed in with these current and future All-Stars are a few slightly surprising names. The ball is flying out of the park at such a rate that a few unexpected players have found themselves among the league leaders. Big, meaty players capable of incredible feats of strength—Beefy Dinger Men.
For 100 years, there have been Beefy Dinger Men: stone-gloved mashers defined by a body that is in one sense or another large as well as a commitment to getting their money’s worth out of each swing. A Beefy Dinger Man can be a good player, but this is not a requirement; in fact, the beefiest dinger hitters in baseball history—Babe Ruth, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire—are remembered simply as great players. To an extent, Beefy Dinger Men must be defined by their home runs, bringing little to the game except the occasional walk and joy in 440-foot increments. We know Beefy Dinger Men of the past: Hal Trosky, Pat Seerey, Boog Powell, Matt Stairs, Dan Uggla. But the home run glut of 2019 has brought a new class of Beefy Dinger Men to the fore.
Here are a few who, if you didn’t know before, you ought to know now.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Those who follow minor league prospects have at least heard of Bell. In 2011, the last year before MLB instituted the current draft bonus cap, the Pirates picked Bell 61st overall and bought him out of his commitment to the University of Texas for $5 million, which is to this day the largest bonus ever paid to a player outside the first round.
Bell progressed slowly but steadily through the minors, breaking into the Pirates’ lineup in 2016 and serving as their everyday first baseman since mid-August of that year. For his first three seasons, Bell was an adequate hitter, with a .260/.348/.436 slash line, but as a below-average defender at first base, he was a somewhat disappointing all-around player. This March, he suffered the indignity of being ripped by an anonymous scout in Sports Illustrated’s MLB preview. “He’s a big lump,” the scout said. “I don’t think he’s got the ability to get better.”
Joke’s on the scout. Bell, now 26 years old and listed at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, is absolutely crushing the baseball in 2019. Bell was just recently named the National League Player of the Month for May, in which he hit .390/.442/.797 with 12 home runs and 12 doubles in 29 games.
For the season, Bell has hit 18 home runs, tied for sixth in MLB, and leads MLB in doubles (22) and is tied for the lead in RBIs (54). A switch hitter, Bell is hitting .347/.412/.719 against right-handed pitchers and .288/.348/.576 against lefties. Bell bloomed a little later than he and the Pirates probably would have liked and may soon graduate from Beefy Dingerdom to the land of genuine All-Star sluggers. But he’s here now, sturdy and treelike, launching one baseball after another into the Allegheny River.
Derek Dietrich, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
If you knew Dietrich at all before this season, it’s as a Miami Marlins utilityman with the best beach muscles in baseball and—to quote the Barenaked Ladies—a history of taking off his shirt.
From 2015 to 2018, Dietrich hit .262/.344/.428, a 114 OPS+, while playing an average of 126 games a year, spread across five different positions. He wasn’t very good defensively at any of those positions, but he’s still a very useful left-handed bench bat. And yet not only did the Marlins non-tender Dietrich, he had to settle for a minor league deal with the Reds. Dietrich made the club out of camp and is enjoying the heck out of life.
When the Reds wore faux-denim 1911 throwbacks, Dietrich painted on a period-appropriate eye-black mustache.
And when the Reds had a game delayed due to an infestation of bees, Dietrich cobbled together an improvised beekeeper costume and went out to help.
Most important for the purposes of this piece, Dietrich is also playing the best ball of his career. He’s become a must-start against right-handed pitchers, against whom he’s slugging .754. Thanks in part to a three-homer game on May 28, Dietrich has 17 home runs in just 153 plate appearances. Nobody with fewer plate appearances has more than nine home runs. Dietrich is hitting a home run every nine plate appearances, which is a pace nobody’s ever kept up over a full season in MLB history. Only Barry Bonds in 2001 and Mark McGwire in 1998 have even homered once every 10 plate appearances. Perhaps Dietrich, fueled by the power that comes from unbuttoning one’s uniform to the navel each game, will make history.
Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees
It would be a mistake to talk about home runs hit in a state of undress without mentioning Luke Voit. After featuring down the stretch for the Yankees last year, the consistently unbuttoned Voit might be too big a name for this list, but if he is a household name, he hasn’t been for long. Voit came to New York from St. Louis last July as an unremarkable piece in an unremarkable three-player trade. To that point he’d hit five big league home runs in 70 games. He hit 14 more in his first 39 games with the Yankees in 2018, and this season has 15 home runs in 59 games, second on the team to Gary Sánchez.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Voit emits much of the same maniacal hog molly energy as the 6-foot, 205-pound Dietrich, only in a larger package. That larger package allows Voit to bench press 135 pounds with just one arm, for instance.
With each home run he hits, Voit cements his status as a Yankees legend, and paves the way for the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons” to return to the Billboard Hot 100.
Franmil Reyes, OF, San Diego Padres
This March, I was standing in the San Diego Padres’ clubhouse when Franmil Reyes shuffled by me on the way to his locker. It was a disconcerting experience, like being passed by a speeding tractor trailer going downhill on the interstate. Reyes, listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, is absolutely gigantic, even for a baseball player, and he has just as much power as you’d expect from a player his size. The 23-year-old Reyes has 19 home runs in just 59 games this year, edging out Hunter Renfroe (who at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds holds impressive Beefy Dinger credentials of his own) for the team lead.
Reyes, more than any other player, embodies the essential joy of the Beefy Dinger Man. In addition to committing himself totally to the pursuit of baseball’s most revered act—the home run—Reyes is given to break out into song.
According to MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, whenever a Padre hits a home run, Reyes and pitcher Chris Paddack welcome their triumphant teammate back to the dugout with a rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” the beloved Dolly Parton ballad made even more famous by Whitney Houston. What started out as an inside joke between two slightly weird teammates has now become the Padres’ de facto victory anthem. What a beautiful tradition—I hope it continues forever.
Hunter Dozier, 3B, Kansas City Royals
Dozier’s 11 home runs in 2019 might not seem like a lot compared to the eye-popping numbers others on this list have put up, but he’s doubled his career home run total this season in just 52 games. Once the eighth overall pick as a shortstop out of Stephen F. Austin, Dozier has grown into a dinger-mashing corner infielder.
Dozier is currently on the 10-day IL with tightness in his thorax, which sounds like slightly weird phrasing—most humans have a “chest” or a “torso” rather than an insect’s “thorax”—but fits the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Texan. Dozier’s grown into a broad-shouldered beast, and beneath his chitinous exterior lies a rippling musculature.
Blasts in back-to-back games for the Dozier of Bulls. pic.twitter.com/iVfVP9msYZ— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 11, 2019
The folks who run the Royals’ Twitter account are apparently fond of calling him “Bull” Dozier, because of the obvious power and equally obvious pun. But the “Bull” nickname didn’t exactly stick to little tiny Brian Dozier when he hit 42 home runs in 2016. It’s not enough to have the pop—you also have to have the beef.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B/DH, Seattle Mariners
Vogelbach was one of the players the Cubs sent to Seattle in the 2016 trade for Mike Montgomery, who’d go on to record the last out of that year’s World Series. At the time—indeed, ever since Chicago drafted him in the second round in 2011—Vogelbach had something of a cult following because of his 6-foot, 250-pound stature. Vogelbach played for Seattle in fits and starts from 2016 to 2018, amassing four home runs in 61 games, but struggled to find opportunities because of his defense.
Vogelbach has not only found opportunities this season, but he’s seized them: He’s hitting .243/.374/.549 in 56 games this year, and last week became the first Mariner, and just the third player overall, to loft a prodigious dinger into the third deck of the right-field stands at T-Mobile Park. If you watch this video with the sound on, you can hear Yuri Gagarin shouting “I am in heaven, and God is not here” from his seat atop the baseball.
One of my favorite things about Beefy Dinger Men, as a class of player, is how many different people fall under its umbrella. Short guys, tall guys, infielders, outfielders, from Dietrich and his Gym Tan Laundry aesthetic to Vogelbach, who made me crave bratwurst so fiercely I had to stop writing and go cook. Whether a Dinger Man is sinewy or zaftig or somewhere in between, beefy is as beefy does. All you need is a bat, a hanging breaking ball, and heels to swing from.