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  • Rookies Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge are keeping their astonishing paces, but there was plenty more fun in June baseball.
By Jonah Keri
June 27, 2017

Your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. The forecast calls for thundershowers, in between bouts of 95 and muggy. You need to finish your TPS report, and you’re dead tired, underfed, and running on fumes.

Friend, what you need is a little pick-me-up. Come along for a whimsical ride. It’s The Fun Report, June edition!

Aaron Judge, Destroyer of Worlds

In a season that’s threatening to topple the all-time record for home runs, at a time when half the league seems to be on pace for a whole bunch of bombs, Aaron Judge’s power has outshone them all.

The 6’ 7”, 282-pound rookie skyscraper leads the majors with 26 home runs. That massive power output, combined with an awe-inspiring line of .333/.447/.697, puts Judge on pace to challenge, or eclipse, some of the most legendary seasons in Yankees history.

Judge’s story would be impressive enough on numbers alone. But it’s the distance and majesty of his home runs that’s set the baseball world ablaze. When Giancarlo Stanton started launching balls into the stratosphere, the gargantuan Marlins slugger looked like he’d become the standard bearer of his generation for Ruthian blasts.

Now, Judge is establishing himself as the king of both hard-hit balls, and tape-measure shots. Even with the Yankees suddenly scuffling, court remains very much in session.

Cody Bellinger, not to be outdone

The Dodgers’ own rookie sensation trails Judge in both home runs and hype. But while Judge is enjoying a better debut campaign overall, Bellinger’s been more impressive in multiple ways.

First, Bellinger’s smashed his National League-leading 24 home runs in just 240 plate appearances, a rate of one for every 10 times up. Meanwhile Judge needed 309 plate appearances to amass his 26 round-trippers, a rate of one for every 11.9 times up. Because he only made his big league debut on April 25, Bellinger doesn’t even have enough plate appearances yet to qualify for the batting title.

Second, Judge gets the benefit of playing in Yankee Stadium, which has played as the most homer-friendly ballpark in the American League this season, and ranked at or near the top of that list since it opened in 2009. Dodger Stadium perennially suppresses batting average, but isn’t quite as harsh on home runs. Still, Bellinger plays in a home park that’s less friendly to both overall offense and long balls.

MLB
For the Cardinals to make the playoffs again, they'll need to hit their way to the postseason

Finally, Bellinger is considerably younger. While Judge celebrated his 25th birthday in April, Bellinger doesn’t turn 22 until July 13. It’s true that age curves have changed over the past few years, with a bunch players crashing the majors as nearly fully-formed products, so it’s possible that we’re already seeing the limits of Bellinger’s potential. Plus at age 25, it’s not like Judge can’t potentially improve in his own right.

Still, seeing Bellinger do what he’s doing at such a tender age, you can’t help but daydream about his future. Even if he doesn’t know who Jerry Seinfeld is. For the on-fire, best-in-the-league Dodgers, Bellinger’s arrival happened right on time.

Speaking of rookie homers…

Three A’s—Matt Olson, Jaycob Brugman, and Franklin Barreto—all hit their first major league home runs on Saturday. Pretty cool.

The Legend of The Freeze

Twenty-six-year-old Nigel Talton has worked for the Atlanta Braves grounds crew since 2012. At the end of last season, the Braves’ marketing department approached him with an idea. That’s how The Freeze was born.

Twenty-seven times this season, the Braves will pick a fan from the stands, and have that fan race Talton along the outfield warning track. The fun lies in the details. Talton was a track star at Iowa Wesleyan and Shorter University, and is very fast. To make up for that gap in speed, the fan gets a huge head start each time. Meanwhile, Talton wears a full bodysuit promoting RaceTrac’s frozen drink called The Freeze. Since the promotion is known as “Beat The Freeze”, Talton himself effectively becomes an icy superhero of sorts every time he pulls on the costume.

Videos of Talton smoking fools quickly went viral, with this look-back, think-you’ve-got-it-clinched, OH NO! classic becoming the standard bearer for the promotion.

Then, suddenly, the reign of The Freeze ended. A DiMaggio in Game 57-level shock.

Still, The Freeze will keep running, and dazzling us all. Whatever the Braves are paying Talton, they need to triple it, immediately.

Don't run on Andrew Benintendi

It’s a terrible idea.

Seriously, just don’t bother.

Funkblast Fiesta

One of my favorite Twitter follows is Jamie Ramsey, the Reds media relations ace in charge of digital content. Every time a Reds player hits a home run, Ramsey declares the show a Funkblast, then posts a weird and delightful GIF to celebrate the Funkblastiness.

Ramsey’s efforts might not convert you into a Reds fan. But at the very least, they’ll get you fired up to see how each Cincy long ball gets honored.

Speaking of great team social media crews…

The Nationals and Rockies are pretty great at this too. About that cloning lab, though...

Clayton Kershaw, Curveball of Death

Opponents have hit .122/.131/.170 against Kershaw’s curveball during the course of his Hall of Fame career. This raises the obvious question: How the hell did they ever hit better than .000 against this monstrosity?!

Father’s Day, Expos style

I’ve never been shy about pledging my love for Montreal’s defunct baseball team. But even non-Quebecois folks would have to admit that this pair of Expos-related Father’s Day stories are the bee’s knees.

First, we have future Hall of Famer (and just-inducted Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer) Vladimir Guerrero paid a visit to Lansing, where he met up with his son, top Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Dad threw out the first pitch, Junior caught it.

Another former Expo, Delino DeShields, manages the Triple-A Louisville Bats. That made him unavailable to see his son Delino Jr. do his thing for the Texas Rangers. Junior still wanted to honor dad, though. So the younger of the two speedsters had an artist design custom cleats, modeled after a picture of dad as an Expo, with Junior as a toddler on his shoulders.

All the feels.

Yasiel Puig speaks the truth

Another day, another bunch of baseball players trying to uphold unwritten rules invented by nobody in the 13th century of never. This time, it was the New York Mets who came unhinged after Yasiel Puig took his time rounding the bases following a home run. Never mind that Puig had been buzzed earlier in the game by a pitch that high and tight. Never mind that there is absolutely nothing in the rule book that states what you can and can’t do after hitting a home run, that other players made a career out of crawling around the bases at a snail’s pace, and that one actually made the tour backwards. Never mind that if the Mets are so upset about a guy going yard and enjoying himself, maybe they should try sucking less.

A recent series explored the ways in which Latin-born ballplayers have impacted Major League Baseball, and how in many cases MLB has been slow to adapt to its changing, Latin-infused culture ... to the league’s own detriment. Puig was asked for his thoughts on others’ reactions to his on-field displays of emotion. While I don’t buy Puig’s hint that his drop in performance since his 2013 rookie season is because he feels he can’t be himself on the field, the latter part is still true; MLB’s stick-up-its-butt approach to shows of emotion and often to other cultures is a blight on the game.

Love Puig or hate him, the (mostly white) guardians of unwritten rules and uptight decorum in baseball would do well to listen to what he has to say.

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