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Joe Bauman; set record for home runs

ALBUQUERQUE --Joe Bauman, whose 72 minor-league home runs in 1954 stood as a professional baseball record until Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, died yesterday. He was 83.

Mr. Bauman died of pneumonia in Roswell, N.M., where he had played for the Roswell Rockets of the Longhorn League during the 1950s. He had developed pneumonia after breaking his pelvis in a fall during the Aug. 11 ceremony to rename the old Fair Park as Joe Bauman Stadium.

Mr. Bauman hit 72 home runs in 1954 while playing in the Class C Longhorn League, one rung above the lowest minor-league level of the time.

''I'm proud of it, even if it's just minor-league trivia," Mr. Bauman said in a 1995 interview.

The record lasted 47 years.

''He was such a modest person. He didn't toot his own horn," said Jim Waldrip, a former teammate. ''He just hit a lot of home runs, and he was a better fielder than a lot of people thought."

Mr. Bauman was watching on television at his home when Bonds hit No. 73 in 2001. ''I never thought it'd last this long, to be honest," he said at the time.

Mr. Bauman, a left-handed first baseman, was 32 when he set the record while hitting .400 over 138 games. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he hit 337 homers in nine minor-league seasons. He retired during the 1956 season, having never reached the majors.

Born in Welch, Okla., Mr. Bauman grew up in Oklahoma City.

After spending four years in the US Navy during World War II, he became part of the Boston Braves organization.

In 1948, Mr. Bauman reached Milwaukee of the American Association -- Boston's top minor-league team and just one step from the majors.

The Braves, however, tried to send him to Atlanta of the Southern Association but wanted to cut his salary. ''I told them that I could make more money selling 24-inch shoestrings on any corner in Oklahoma City," he said.

The next spring, Mr. Bauman decided to play semipro baseball in Elk City, Okla., where he ran a service station along Route 66.

Three years later, in 1952, Mr. Bauman returned to the minors.

Mr. Bauman said he earned about $3,000 each summer, thanks to ''fence money" -- where fans stuck bills through the fence after his home runs.

''One night he made $254 from a home run, which was twice what most ballplayers made in a month," Waldrip recalled. ''And for every home run Joe hit, a packing plant in Roswell would give him a cured ham. That always kept some of the other players in food."

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