Aaron Judge and the Real Home Run Record
On Tuesday night, Yankee slugger Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season. That’s an awful lot! Oh, what a hullabaloo there was! The stadiums were packed. The media coverage was incessant, even cutting into coverage of entirely different sports. But it was all worth it to share the great story of Aaron Judge and his dingers. A historic season, indeed.
With all the fracas you’d be forgiven for thinking Judge broke the MLB single-season homer record the other night. That is not the case. In fact, Judge now sits proudly at seventh on the all-time list. Not even top five!
I’ll be honest: I don’t really care. Sure, he broke the American League record. Big whoop. He’s in seventh place. He needed to hit 12 homers in yesterday’s matinee against the Rangers to beat Barry Bonds, who hit 73 in 2001. Judge didn’t even come close.
“But, Will!” you squeal as your horn-rimmed spectacles fall down your nose, “that’s not the real home run record! Barry Bonds used steroids! Judge is the real home run king!” Maybe that’s the case if you are the sort of person who breaks out a stopwatch to ensure the pizza guy arrives within 30 minutes. Juice or not, Barry hit 73, and five other performance-enhanced seasons clear Judge’s.
“But that’s cheating!” Not when they did it, it wasn’t. PEDs weren’t in the rulebook until 2005, several years after Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire hit their respective peaks.
“But today’s players don’t get that same advantage! That means it’s harder to hit homers now than it was then.” Wow! You must be very smart. Any player from a previous era would struggle in today’s game. Babe Ruth never saw a slider his whole career. Conversely, Hank Aaron played half his career with the mound raised. Do you want to adjust every MLB hitter’s statistics to properly reflect the era they played in? If so, Judge is probably your home run king. On the other hand, Babe Ruth probably becomes an accountant.
The nastiness re: steroids is inconsistent, too. Lots of guys on MLB’s infamous 2003 positive test list (it’s technically an alleged list, by the way) don’t receive the same vitriol that those big three sluggers get. You guys like Bartolo Colon right? The pitcher who hit the cool home run? He’s on the same list as Sosa. So are Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz. Those last four are all in the Hall of Fame.
Also, who’s to say that Judge isn’t roiding? He’s a big dude. He could be. If he is, we likely won’t find out for years. That’s the way it was with Bonds, MacGuire and Sosa. They weren’t busted until years after their home run chases. You can’t celebrate greatness in the present if you’re worried about the future. When my Broncos won the Super Bowl back in 2016, I wasn’t thinking, “I wonder what scandals will taint this in 10 years’ time?” If that’s the case, why celebrate at all? If absolute fairness is your thing, have at it. It sure is a sad way to watch sports.
Part of me suspects that the team Judge plays for is part of this. It isn’t “the AL home run record” that’s spurring all this media coverage. I guarantee you ESPN wouldn’t be cutting into college football games with The Aaron Judge Show if he played for the Twins. It’s the Yanks. This is one of the reasons everybody outside New York hates y’all. If Mickey Mantle was aboard Apollo 12 y’all would say his lunar dust samples were better than Neil Armstrong’s.
That’s partially why I hate this whole Aaron Judge coronation that’s going on in certain baseball circles. It needs to stop. Aaron Judge has had a magnificent year. The seventh-best home run season in history is nothing to sneeze at. But if we nullify everything we don’t like about our history, we undermine the entire game. 62 home runs is not 73. It sucks that the single-season home run record is a subjective, depends-on-who-you-ask kind of deal.
Let’s let Bonds have it, and Judge or someone else will break it later. No technical victories. The record deserves to be special, and it deserves to be real. I would cheer louder for 74, wouldn’t you?