The season’s last month, playoff races aside, is for following the pursuit of records and milestones. The Dodgers—have you heard?—are chasing the mark of 116 wins, held by the 2001 Mariners and the 1906 Cubs. With 91 at week’s end they could very well beat it, needing to go 26–7 the rest of the way.
And if we’re looking for a genuine chase for a genuinely remarkable individual accomplishment, our eyes must turn where they rarely do in September: to Miami, where Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is bidding to become just the sixth different player to hit 60 home runs in a season.
He has a real shot. Through Sunday the 27-year-old Stanton had swatted 50, one every 9.5 at bats. He has averaged 3.7 at bats in Miami’s first 129 games. Assuming he stays healthy and won’t sit the rest of the way—not only is he chasing 60, but the Marlins are also chasing a wild-card spot, just 4 1/2 games out—Stanton stands to get about 122 more at bats. At his current pace that’s 13 additional homers, or 63 total. Many hitters on quests similar to Stanton’s have slowed down in September. For instance, in 2006 the Phillies’ Ryan Howard crushed 14 homers in August and entered September with 49. But he hit just nine more, in part because he was walked about twice as often as usual in September. Stanton, though, should see plenty of pitches to hit: Eighteen of Miami’s remaining 33 games come against also-rans. And if you’re worried about fatigue: Have you seen Giancarlo Stanton?
Besides, sometimes when a great player is pursuing a record, you get historic outcomes. In 1927, when he became the first man to hit 60, Babe Ruth slugged 17 homers in September, a record for that month that stands 90 years later.
Sixty homers? Some quest, fans of a certain age may huff. They saw so many 60‑homer seasons (six) from 1998 through 2001 that the feat seems about as exciting as a Marlins game was in those years. And given how fans view the men who authored those seasons—Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds—the quest has been diminished by their association.
But we do now have the benefit of distance from those ignominious days, and in the 15 full seasons since Bonds set the current record of 73, no one has gotten to 60. Baseball is again ready for a proper bid at that milestone, for the live look-ins and the nightly nerves. Stanton is the man to do it.
As eager as we are for another player to hit 60 or even 61—the standard set in 1961 by Roger Maris—I preemptively shudder at the discussion of who, exactly, is the “legitimate single-season home run king” that will ensue should Stanton pass Maris but fall short of Bonds. It’s not fair to Stanton or, for that matter, to the complex history of the game during the Steroid Era, to stick him in a morality play. The best power hitter of the decade is smacking dingers as he never has before. That on its own is worth celebrating.