Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Real Home Run Record

I am not following baseball this year, but when I seek other sports news, the Aaron Judge story is prominent. It seems there is a lot of attention being paid for someone who is not approaching the actual single-season MLB record. However, whenever a player has hit a lot of home runs, I quietly look at how he is doing against what I consider the real record(s). The attention paid to Judge suggests to me that a lot of folks feel the same way, but don't say it out loud.  Not even sports writers. So while the words being used are about the "American League" record and "right-handed" record, there is extra attention being paid because...this is the unasterisked record. The without-apology-or-explanation record.

Babe Ruth hit 60 HR in the old-style 154-game season. Roger Maris beat that with 61, but that was in the slightly longer 162-game season, and there has been controversy and acrimony about that since the 1960s. Judge sits at 60 HR in 147 games, so if he hits one more in the next seven games he passes Ruth - without asterisk. If he hits one beyond that he passes Maris. So that would be one controversy and one asterisk retired. 

The other asterisks are around PED's and Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. Aaron is extremely unlikely to catch Bonds at 73. So that argument remains. But for some who remain in the camp of refusing to acknowledge records for enhanced players, Judge will certainly become the real record-holder in our their eyes. 

I can accept the argument that the game changes and one cannot really compare eras. Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400 said that no one was going to hit .400 again* "because of that damn slider," and allowed that he probably wouldn't have either had the pitch been common in his day. Ed Walsh won 40 games for the White Sox in 1908, which is technically considered the modern era, but no one pays the least attention to that. I am fine with that approach of simply not paying much attention to records at all because all the data carries a certain amount of poison.

*Wade Boggs hit .401 over 162 games, but it straddled two seasons and such things are traditionally regarded only as curiosities and not actual records.

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