Opinion: The problem with Aaron Judge’s 61 home run feat

Editor’s note: Jeff Pearlman He is the author of his last 10 books, “The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson,” forthcoming from Mariner Books. The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.


History was made on Wednesday night when Yankee slugger Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run.

How do I know history was made? Major League Baseball has spent much of the season reminding us that history was about to be made. He’s been everywhere: all over MLB.com, discussed in the MLB Network talking heads, tossed up and down, left and right by countless broadcast booths. History will be made! History must be made! The history to be made will be an amazing history, because, well, it is historical.

The very words (“history” and “historical”) have served as a mask for the reality that – during the 1990s and early 2000s allowing the use of steroids and human growth hormone – Major League Baseball ruined and dishonored its record book, and Judge- ’s shot just (yawn) tied the American League home run record.

And, if we’ve learned one thing from former President Donald Trump, repeating a line pays dividends. Words somehow ingrain themselves into our psyche until, after enough exposure, we consider the thought original and undeniable.

Or, to put it another way: Major League Baseball desperately wants you to believe that Judge’s 61st homer is historic.

And the unfortunate truth is: it is not. And the reason is Major League Baseball itself.

When the Yankees’ Roger Maris surpassed Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 dingers in 1961, it was considered by many to be one of the great achievements of sports. Yes, there were (as there always are) critics and skeptics: Maris’ 61 homers came over 161 games, while Ruth’s 154. Lord’s 1961 was also a time of expansion, meaning extra teams fielded – with thin groups. .

But, as the decades passed, Maris’s 61 went up. You could have been a loyal Yankee fan, a casual Angels fan, an indifferent non-fan – and chances are you still knew 61. That’s How Baseball Milestones Worked – Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak wasn’t just baseball history. , but the american the history The same was true of Hank Aaron’s 755 career homers, Maris’ 61st. They were important. They stood the test of time.

And then, in the 1990s, something happened. At the time, I was a baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, somewhat confused but not quite sure why guys boasting pretzel stick physiques looked like a cross-pollination of Evander Holyfield and Michelangelo’s David when they covered spring training. In 1998, when Maris’ 61 “stars” were surpassed by not one, but two greats, Mark McGwire (who hit 73 home runs) and Sammy Sosa (a more modest 66), a nation. arose and celebrated and the men took the gifts of the gods. My own publication named McGwire and Sosa Sportsmen of the Year, and put their gigantic figures on the cover of the magazine, dressed in togas.

Before long, as more and more players underwent dramatic body transformations, they turned to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) like steroids and human growth hormone. An alternate catcher would complain to a reporter (off the record) about uneven playing fields. A clean juice wife would brush off her muscle gains by citing “a juice diet” (wink, wink) or “these amazing dates my mom goes on.”

Roger Maris of the New York Yankees batting against the Detroit Tigers in 1960.

In the press boxes, we would argue that what happened in front of us was increasingly impossible to believe. Baltimore’s Brady Anderson, who had 21 home runs in his first season, caught the eye (and still unanswered questions) when he hit 50. What happened to make Sosa’s body look more like champion bodybuilder Lee Haney? Why does that 35-year-old second baseman have acne covering his back?

When San Francisco’s Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record with 73 homers in 2001, we all knew it was nonsense. Some of us don’t – all of us. Here is a man, at 36 years old, with muscles growing on top of muscles and the size of his skull – as I reported in my Bonds biography, “Love Me Hate Me”, he really got bigger in recent years (this is physically impossible without help). HGH). I was in San Francisco last night when Bonds McGwire came by, and it was… stupid. So damn stupid. The home fans stood and cheered, but it felt flat and pointless and a little embarrassing. Like seeing a magician’s fake thumb.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association did nothing. Home runs were great business, so while team owners dismissed PED suspicions, the union made it clear it would refuse to methodically and effectively test its players. The result was temporary long-ball excitement, followed by the quiet-but-still-crushing (most of those in attendance) note that the record book had become meaningless. Trivia: How many career home runs did Bonds hit? (I wrote his biography and no idea).

Finally, in 2002, the league and union agreed to survey testing, in 2004 urine testing for PEDs, in 2006 banning amphetamine testing, and in 2012 blood testing for HGH. It’s far from perfect, but it’s an improvement. “We’re constantly improving that (testing) program,” Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred said in 2016. “Science improves. And it’s true that the detection windows for certain substances have been extended; the detection windows, that is, the time periods in which a substance can be detected in someone’s body, have improved. Science is improving.”

With Wednesday’s blowout in Toronto, Judge and Maris are tied the seventh Most single-season home runs of all time – behind Bonds, McGwire’s two big years and Sosa’s three (yes, three) incredible long-ball streaks. That’s why when I heard Michael Kay, the wonderful Yankees announcer, celebrate Judge’s moment: “He’s chasing history! And now he does! well, i only felt sadness.

On the one hand, the 30-year-old slugger has had a come-of-age season — the AL MVP award is locked up, and he’s poised to become the Yankees’ first triple crown winner since Mickey Mantle. 1956

It should be a historic time for baseball.

It should be a historic time for Aaron Judge.

Instead, greed destroyed baseball and took its history with it.