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Aaron Judge Makes History, but 61 Is Not the Record

Barry Bonds is still the holder of the single-season home run record. But what the Yankees star has accomplished is something still worth celebrating.

Editors’ note: Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season Tuesday night against the Rangers, giving him the most for an American League player in a single season.

Sometime in the 1800s, somebody threw the first pitch in baseball history. This was followed by the second pitch in baseball history, at which point somebody immediately said pitching was not what it used to be.

Baseball is perpetually trying to chase a purer, happier past that did not exist, and this strange habit is most evident when discussing the single-season home run record. Ty Cobb, who rose to stardom in the dead-ball era, used to bristle at the idea that players should even try to hit home runs. Roger Maris’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record quickly became more of a defense of Ruth than a celebration of Maris; commissioner Ford Frick said Ruth would be the real record-holder because he hit his 60 in a 154-game season, while Maris’s Yankees got to play 162, and only 23,154 fans showed up to watch Maris hit No. 61. Then Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds came along and … well, you know that story.

This brings us to Aaron Judge, and let’s try to save us from ourselves here. No, he did not tie the “real” major-league record when he hit his 61st of the season Wednesday night in Toronto. No, he is not atoning for the sport’s past sins. He is having one of the most dominant hitting seasons in the history of the game, and if that’s not enough for us, we’ve got problems.

Judge has 61 home runs. Kyle Schwarber has hit the second-most home runs in baseball: 42. There is a larger gap between Judge and Schwarber than between Schwarber and the guys tied for 42nd on the home run list, one of whom happens to be Bo Bichette, a star who is having himself a marvelous year but is still hitting just one home run for every 2.5 of Judge’s.

Judge would be having a legendary season even if he were straight out of the Dave Kingman/Adam Dunn/Chris Davis mold and the vast majority of his value came from hitting home runs. But of course, that’s not Judge at all. If you look up the word “complete” in the dictionary, you should really expand your vocabulary, since most people know what that word means. But anyway, Judge is having one of the most complete seasons in baseball history.

He leads the league in on-base percentage. He could win the Triple Crown. He has even stolen 16 bases in 19 attempts.

There is a difference between comparing with past eras and competing with them. Comparing is fun. Competing is annoying. We can compare Judge’s dominance with Ruth’s or Barry Bonds’s, but we don’t need Judge to undo the feats (or misdeeds) of 1998 and 2001. This is a beautiful, messy sport with a long, beautiful, messy history. Sometimes, a great player has a special season. That is Aaron Judge in 2022. It doesn’t have to be more, or less, than that. — Michael Rosenberg

May 10, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA;  New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) rounds the bases after hitting a walk-off three-run home run to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-5 at Yankee Stadium.

What Aaron Judge is doing this year is astonishing, but not because he tied Roger Maris’s American League home run record. Barry Bonds blew away the major league mark in 2001, before MLB began testing for performance-enhancing drugs, but Judge knows which number counts. He said as much to SI’s Tom Verducci: “Seventy-three is the record.”

Do you know who holds the National League record for a hitting streak? Probably not, because the number that matters is 56, set by Joe DiMaggio in 1941. (Wee Willie Keeler, playing for the NL Baltimore Orioles, hit in 45 straight from 1896 to ’97.) League-specific records carried weight in an older era, when the sides had different rules and never met in the regular season; now, with two 15-team leagues, there is at least one interleague game per day. Indeed, Judge has hit nine of his 61 bombs against NL teams, including Nos. 58 and 59.

No. 61 has become an arbitrary marker. A better statistic by which to measure Judge’s greatness is 19: the number of home runs he has hit ahead of second place, the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber, who has 42. No player has had such an immense lead over the rest of the league since Babe Ruth had 23 more than anyone else in 1928. That’s historic. — Stephanie Apstein

Jul 28, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) hits a walk-off solo home run during the bottom of the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium.

For the last few months, as Aaron Judge launched home runs at a staggering rate, many of us who cover baseball have been asked what we consider to be the real single-season record for home runs. To quote MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, “I reject the premise of the question.”

Indeed, until somebody smacks more than 73 dingers in a year, that answer will always be Barry Bonds. There are no such things as clean records or dirty records (unless you’re talking about the musty old crates of Mills Brothers albums in my dad’s garage).

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Judge’s 61st homer secures a different type of honor, though, one that we can bestow upon him whether he holds the record or not: the greatest home run hitting season ever. Greatest accounts for context and encourages debate.

Unlike Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Judge reached the 60-homer benchmark without the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Unlike Roger Maris, Judge’s 60 came within his team’s first 154 games, which was the length of a big-league season when Babe Ruth swatted 60 in 1927. And, perhaps most remarkably, Judge is cranking out his dingers at time when it’s far more difficult to do so, at least to the extent Judge has. When Maris hit 61, he was in a race with teammate Mickey Mantle for most of the season, until Mantle injured his hip in September and finished with 54. In the three other seasons in which a player hit 60, someone else also did, too. This year, the player with the next most homers, Kyle Schwarber, is 19 behind Judge.

Incredibly, the Yankees still have seven games left in the season. Judge isn’t done going yard, unless opposing teams continue to pitch around him, as they did in the week between his 60th and 61st homers. He won’t hit 12 more this year, to tie Bonds’s record, but he can still add some more homers to what is the greatest home-run hitting achievement in MLB history. — Matt Martell

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) reacts while rounding the bases after hitting a home run against the Minnesota Twins during the sixth inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in New York.

The people were waiting. It was the subtext to every plate appearance, every pitch, seen by the Yankees since Judge hit No. 60. Everyone in the stadium waited for a home run from Aaron Judge, and then everyone at the Rogers Centre in Toronto did too. The energy was impossible to ignore. Or, at least, it should have been. But while everyone was waiting for him to leave the yard—again—Judge was doing something else: He was showing off every other part of his considerable skill set. This has been perhaps the most dazzling part of his incredible season. It’s not just the home runs. It’s everything. It’s a chase for the Triple Crown—he currently leads in all three categories. It’s his understanding of the zone, his skill at getting on base when his team needs it most, his ability to nail a rocket of a throw from deep in the outfield. 

In one of the greatest individual offensive performances in recent memory, Judge has been so much more than a straightforward, one-dimensional slugger. He’s been the complete package. And he demonstrated that in the space between his milestone home runs. Yet in all that waiting—lying under all these other displays of talent—it still felt like he might do it at any point. There was no context where a home run felt unlikely for Judge. In any count, any situation, any opposing pitcher, he made it seem possible. Which was perhaps the most striking piece of the whole thing. Even if he made you wait, he made it worth your while. — Emma Baccellieri

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