The verdict is in, and not just from the Judge’s Chambers out at Yankee Stadium, either: Aaron Judge, who hit his historic 62nd home run Tuesday night, is now the rightful record-holder of the single-season record.
Move over, Roger Maris, whose 61 home runs in 1961 should have been viewed as the real record for the last 24 years as well as the previous 37. It surely would have been if not for three enhanced National League sluggers who decided to game the system by loading up on the best stuff Victor Conte and other assorted aiders, abettors, mad scientists and crooked trainers had to offer.
I get it. A lot of fans want to believe in their heroes. They either don’t want to think they wasted their time following the great home run chase in 1998 and ’01 or they love numbers so much they accept them as fact when some of them are quite obviously fugazy, as legit as a street corner three-card monte game.
Technically, MLB still recognizes Barry Bonds as the record-holder, and that’s not about to change. But we know better.
Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa changed the equation by loading up on the good stuff, transforming their bodies and tilting the game so far in their favor that they became superhuman almost overnight. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa get to keep their undeserved trophies and their ill-gotten extra loot. But anyone who truly believes they merit their records, too, must see Danny Almonte as a great Little Leaguer, Lance Armstrong as the best bicyclist and Tonya Harding as a deserving Olympian.
If ever a situation warranted an asterisk — at the very least — this is it. I understand it isn’t an easy call. The last time the dreaded asterisk was invoked, commissioner Ford Frick, the Babe Ruth buddy who decreed it to diminish Maris’ rightful record, became known as the biggest Frick in the game.
Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:
That asterisk idea was asinine, of course, which is why they eventually removed it. But here, it wasn’t just a matter of a few more games as it was with Maris. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa changed their physiology and cheated the game and all of us. No way this trio in infamy should be celebrated.
Roger Maris Jr., by all appearances a very honorable man, traveled around with McGwire in 1998, hoping against all appearances that the McGwire-Sosa homer pursuit was legit. We all naively accepted McGwire’s obvious transformation into a condo-sized terror to pitchers who reduced pitching friendly Busch Stadium to his personal Big Mac Land. But now we know it was all a big put-on, and when he was asked about it, Maris Jr. only stated the obvious that Judge was about to become the legit record-holder.
I do think Maris Jr. is probably wrong that that’s the majority opinion. If the 1990s were the era of don’t ask, don’t tell, this is a time of steroid fatigue. That was an era where cheaters knew not to admit what they were doing because they knew it would delegitimize what they were doing. Now we know. We have the goods on them. Yet sadly, we continue to look the other way.
MLB by all appearance is doing a good job of flushing steroids out of the game. Some skeptics will disagree, and maybe I’m still naïve, but no one’s head looks like a beach ball today, and only one player is setting records. MLB still tests frequently, but only one star was foolish enough to get caught this season — Fernando Tatis Jr., that amateur San Diego motorcyclist who later made the absurd claim he was trying to fight ringworm with accidental anabolic steroids. While that’s preposterous, it’s nice to see that steroids are so poorly regarded in some circles that you’d rather be known as a liar and/or a guy no one wants to go near.
Some will say McGwire and Sosa saved baseball, and if they contributed to the sport’s comeback, that’s great. But they and Bonds didn’t do it for the good of the game. They did it to earn more accolades, collect more hardware and make more moolah, which they did do.
The repo man isn’t about to come to remove their trophies. But some justice can still be served. An acknowledgment can be made about what we all know to be true — that they did not do it legitimately.
It’s much more complicated for the commissioner, who isn’t about to do what I recommend for many reasons. He doesn’t want to open many cans of worms when different eras were known for different indiscretions. He may also not want to shine a light on the worst of the baseball eras, and move the conversation from the great and unfailingly good Judge to a loosey-goosey time best forgotten.
Commissioner Rob Manfred understandably doesn’t want to be in the business of endlessly chasing justice, which will always be elusive and is sure to produce messy results. But if we are being completely honest, the record rightfully belongs to one Aaron James Judge.