Baseball’s home run ghosts are starting to emerge from the shadows and they’ll likely be around until the season ends in October. So get ready for Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa…names that pop up occasionally, but seldom in unison.
That is changing, because of Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees slugger on a pace to threaten the all-time, one-season record of 73 home runs. He’s almost a certainty to reach the magic number of 60, the American League record and the record for players not inclined — allegedly — to pump up their biceps illegally.
As the second-fastest hitter to 200 career home runs, Judge has already resurrected a not-so-distant replay and a trivia answer. Who would’ve known the quickest to 200 was Ryan Howard? It happened in 2009, less than halfway through his 13-year career with Philadelphia. In the remaining seven-and-a-half seasons, Howard hit but 182 homers.
Judge, at 30, is about six complete seasons into it, and also likely to play for only one team. To speculate he’ll pass the 762 home-run record set by Bonds is, at least, premature. Not so the one-season record also belonging to Bonds, from 2001.
On Judge’s trip are the only other four players ever to hit 60 home runs or more. Sosa did it three times (66, 63, 63), McGwire twice (70, 65) and Bonds — who was transformed from a virtual stick-man to a behemoth with a big stick — only passed 60 once. The alleged use of performance enhancing drugs continues to keep the three greatest home-run hitters, from any one season, out of the Hall of Fame…perhaps in perpetuity. This is a distant replay that nobody cares to re-visit because of its smell.
Before Judge awakens these sleeping giants, he’ll have to pass The Babe, who hit 60 homers a mere 95 years ago, and who still lives today as a Yankees legend. At the “house that Ruth built” — Yankee Stadium — it’s likely Judge will get a warmer reception than Maris did in 1961, when an asterisk was attached to his feat because the schedule had just been expanded by eight games, to 162.
For baseball purists, and perhaps non-purists, Judge will provide welcome relief if he hits more than Bonds, McGwire and Sosa. He has never done anything suspicious and, except for Yankee haters, he’s professional and eminently likeable. When Maris chased Ruth, the home-run race was spell-binding. When McGwire, and then Bonds, passed them both it was suspiciously exciting. When Judge gets close, it truly will be a distant replay.
And yet, 60 or 70 or 74 may all be beyond Judge’s reach. Here’s a comment I read last week by Yankees’ coach Willie Randolph:
“I’m surprised they pitch to him as much as they do. I mean, what are you doing? The guy’s six-foot-seven…you don’t notice he’s here?”
In my world, I hope Judge gets noticed not for his size, but for the record.