Before the start of the MLB season, Brian Cashman and the Yankees offered Aaron Judge a seven-year contract extension worth $230 million.
Judge turned the deal down, and many at the time questioned his decision.
How could you turn down that much money?
Judge has answered that question with a contract year for the ages.
Unless a disaster strikes (like a meteor crashing into Yankee Stadium-level disaster), then the big fella is a shoo-in for American League MVP.
Most legal online sportsbooks in New York have Judge as a runaway favorite for MVP, with FanDuel having him at a staggeringly short -650.
The way he’s been smashing the ball this year has raised a question we haven’t thought very much about in years – can he do the unthinkable and break the “clean” single-season home run record?
The Significance of 61
The last Yankee to hit 61 home runs in a season was Roger Maris in the year 1961. It was an incredible race to break Babe Ruth’s previous single-season record of 60 between Maris and Mickey Mantle (there’s also a pretty good HBO original movie about it that you should check out if you haven’t seen it already).
Maris broke Ruth’s record, and 61 would stand as a number signifying hitting dominance for 37 years. That was until, well, let’s say, an ‘injection’ of power was introduced into the game in the nineties.
Doing it “The Right Way”
Of course, we all know that Judge would not be the first player since Maris to hit 61 home runs in a season. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke the record multiple times, while Barry Bonds would sail past Maris’ number with a 73 home run season. We now know that performance-enhancing drugs played at least some part in all three of their pursuits of Maris.
We can sit back and argue all day about how we should perceive these men and their records. Many now excuse the three as products of their time, while others still think of them as dirty, rotten cheaters. No matter which side of the fence you land on in that debate, there’s no denying that the record is tainted in some way.
As far as we know, the closest ‘clean players’ (as the recent suspension of Fernando Tatis Jr. shows us, we never really know for sure) have gotten to the record this century was Ryan Howard in 2006 and Judge’s current teammate Giancarlo Stanton in 2017, with 58 and 59 dingers, respectively.
If Judge can do it cleanly, then it would be a big win for the baseball purists out there.
So, Can Judge Beat Maris?
We can certainly hope so. Yankees fans assuredly would like the “real” home run record to belong to a Bronx Bomber.
For what it’s worth, MLB.com has a tracker that has Judge on pace to break the record at the time of this writing. It will be hard for him to keep up the pace, and he needs to stay healthy for another month or so, but at least the numbers are on his side.
The speculation about where the 30-year-old will land in free agency and how big his contract will be will soon dominate the news cycle, so let’s just enjoy this while it lasts.
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