The Importance of 62
Aaron Judge is in rarified air. With one more home run, most will recognize him as the single-season home run king.
Last night in Toronto, New York Yankees outfield Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season.
Officially, Judge tied the American League record set by Roger Maris in 1961. The fact that Judge did it exactly 61 years later. Judge joins Maris and Babe Ruth as the only players in American League history to hit 60 home runs in a season.
The fact that all three were New York Yankees of course has nothing at all to do with the homer-friendly dimensions of the many incarnations of Yankee Stadium.1
This weekend, Judge will likely hit his 62nd home run against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium2. And it will be celebrated across baseball
because he is a New York Yankee and if things don’t happen in New York ESPN doesn’t realize it happened because the Yankees are the most famous sports team on Earth.
But it will also be because Aaron Judge, in the eyes of many, will be the real single-season home run king.
Here is a list of every Major League Player who has hit 60 or more home runs in a season.
Barry Bonds, SF, 2001: 73
Mark McGwire, STL, 1998: 70
Sammy Sosa, CHC, 1998: 66
Mark McGwire, STL, 1999: 65
Sammy Sosa, CHC, 2001: 64
Sammy Sosa, CHC, 1999: 63
Roger Maris, NYY, 1961: 61
Aaron Judge, NYY, 2022, 61
Babe Ruth, NYY, 1927, 60
Those top six players all have a few things in common (beyond not just getting the benefit of friendly dimensions at Yankee Stadium). Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa all hit 60 or more in a three-year stretch, from 1998-2001. This coincided with Major League Baseball adding two more teams in 1998, so there was a dilution in pitching.3
But it also was the height of the steroid era. Mark McGwire admitted that he used steroids before Congress. Sammy Sosa still denies ever taking steroids, even though he reportedly tested positive in MLB’s anonymous tests in 2003; the same season he was caught using a corked bat.4 With Barry Bonds5 it was "the clear" and "the cream".
What that means is that no player has ever hit more than 61 home runs while doing it cleanly. Now that MLB has a drug testing policy, we can assume that Aaron Judge can be the first to do so.
Rightly or wrongly, Aaron Judge will be celebrated as the single-season home run king when he hits number 62. And I believe that is an appropriate decision.
If there is one thing that baseball fans hate, it’s cheating. Yes, Gaylord Perry’s act on the mound about the spitball was entertaining performance art. But you only need to look at the reaction to players who have been nailed for performance-enhancing drug use. More widely, look at the reaction to anybody associated with the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal from 2017. They are mercilessly booed off the field by visiting fans.
Players that play the game the right way? They are lauded and celebrated. There is no better example of that than the Albert Pujols retirement tour and his pursuit of 700 home runs.
The applause that Pujols got for hitting #700 on the road says everything that you need to know.6
The applause when Judge hits #62 at Yankee Stadium this weekend will dwarf that.
Though it loathes me to salute a New York Yankee, Aaron Judge will be the real single-season home run king once he reaches #62. For the sake of recognizing the legitimacy of the game, it is the only right thing to do.
If you are wondering why this is important: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/yankees-aaron-judge-pretty-upset-after-camden-yards-new-left-field-wall-costs-him-three-homer-game/
Which will annoy me, but alas.
As there was in 1961 when Maris hit 61.
The other weird thing about Sosa; he hit 60 home runs three times and never led the league in any of those seasons. In the two years he did win the home run title he “only” hit 50 and 49 respectively. It was a five-year stretch where he hit 292 home runs, which is equal to what Pat Burrell hit in his entire 12-year career.
Who would had a Hall of Fame career in progress before using “the clear” and “the cream”.
Though Pujols did play 85 games for the Dodgers last year and spent 9+ years before that playing for the crosstown Angels.