61 years after Roger Maris set the home run record with 61 in 1961, Aaron Judge has joined him.
The Yankees slugger launched No. 61 against Blue Jays reliever Tim Mayza on a full count in the top of the seventh inning. The two-run shot to left field put the Yankees up 5-3 in an eventual 8-3 victory.
— MLB (@MLB) September 29, 2022
Judge is now the fifth player in MLB history to hit 61 home runs in a single season. Barry Bonds holds the all-time single-season record with 73 homers in 2001. However, Bonds, No. 2 Mark McGwire (70 in 1998) and No. 3 Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998) have all been connected to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Roger Maris Jr. on Aaron Judge: "He should be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ. That's really who he is if he hits 62." pic.twitter.com/0uCipHHJkU
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) September 29, 2022
Judge became the third player in Yankees history to hit 60 home runs in a single season with a solo shot against the Pirates last Tuesday, joining Maris and Babe Ruth (1927).
Entering Wednesday’s game, Judge also owned a league-leading .314 batting average and 128 RBIs, giving him a shot at becoming the first AL Triple Crown winner since Miguel Cabrera in 2012. Before Cabrera, no hitter had accomplished the feat in either league since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Judge would be the first Yankee to capture the Triple Crown since Mickey Mantle in 1956.
“It’s an incredible honor, getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, one of baseball’s greats, words can’t describe it,” Judge said. “That’s one thing so special about the Yankees organization, is all the guys that came before us and kind of paved the way and played the game the right way, did things the right way, did a lot of great things in this game and getting a chance to be mentioned with those guys now is, I can’t even describe it, it’s an incredible honor that’s for sure.”
Judge’s 2022 tear has been done with zero evidence of performance-enhancing drugs used by the Yankees slugger, which manager Aaron Boone believes puts the All-Star outfielder’s numbers beyond those recorded by the others.
“I think it puts it a notch above,” Boone said last week. “I got to believe it’s right there with some of the best very short list of all-time seasons. I go back to the context of the season, and the more I look at it and dive into it, it’s got to be an all-time great season.”
Maris Jr. concurred.
“He’s clean. He’s a Yankee. He plays the game the right way,” Maris Jr. said. “And he gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered.”
At one point, Judge’s torrid home run pace matched that of Bonds’ 2001 record-setting season, but with less than two weeks left of games, it will take a formidable surge for him now to approach that mark.
Maris’ 61 is considered by many to be the “clean” home run record. Judge, a Northern California native who has called Bonds “the greatest hitter of all time,” does not devalue his accomplishments.
“That’s the record,” said Judge, who graduated from Linden High School in San Joaquin County, about an hour and a half east of the San Francisco Bay. “I watched him do it. I stayed up late watching him do it. That’s the record. No one can take that from him.”
That quote alone is a glimpse into the real Aaron Judge. He never stirs up controversy, nor puts himself first over the team. On the field he basks in the spotlight and desire to be up when the game is on the line. When off the field, he is much more comfortable laying in the shadows and deflecting the spotlight onto others.
He is a humble superstar, the best kind of superstar. It kind of made sense that it was Judge who found himself chasing Maris’ record.
Maris suffered throughout his 1961 campaign for being the “wrong guy” doing the right thing at the right time. He wasn’t Mickey Mantle, the beloved homegrown center fielder, and Maris’ 1960 AL MVP Award was seen in New York as a robbery over Mantle. Maris had the commissioner of baseball advocating against his success, assigning an asterisk to his record because the length of the American League season expanded from 154 games to 162 that year.
Maris was chasing Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs, putting him in the unenviable position of having his own stellar performance seen as a detriment to one of the most sacred elements of baseball history. The toll it took on Maris is well known: His hair fell out. He grew surly. His achievement was diminished by the sport’s most stubborn gatekeepers of his time.
Judge’s home run chase comes with none of the baggage Maris faced: He is the homegrown outfielder, and the nationwide sentiment around the MLB single-season home run record is certainly more muddled and controversial now than when Maris was trying to swat down the sultan.
Historical achievements in baseball demand the respect of their participants, and Judge displayed reverence to the two Yankees whose records he broke as he reflected on his performance this season.
“There’s a lot of things Babe did that I definitely couldn’t do,” Judge said. “To get a chance to sit at 60 for a while there with the Babe was nice. Now, to get a chance to sit at 61 with another Yankee right fielder who hit 61 home runs and was an MVP and won championships, it’s pretty cool.”
The American fascination with home run records has long been a quintessential element of the general enjoyment of the sport, but where dingers go, drama tends to follow. There has been a circus-like environment around Judge since he hit home run No. 60, but unlike the man whose record he tied in Toronto, he has not suffered for his success.
Throughout the season, Judge has denied having aspirations toward this moment or feeling anticipation about the possibility of hitting a milestone number in the sport. He’s been asked what the record would mean to him. He’s been asked how meaningful he feels the hallowed marks of 60 and 61 home runs are in this game. He wouldn’t bite, would not allow his words to be swept up in the excitement and hype surrounding his season.
When he did tie the record, Judge’s response was considered. He reflected on Maris’ legacy and spoke of his focus on winning games even though the Yankees have already clinched their victory atop the AL East. Maris rode his historical season to Monument Park, setting an intriguing precedent for Judge, who is expected to become a free agent after this postseason.
As Judge rounded the bases and his teammates barged out of the dugout to congratulate him, the season schedule offered an amusing reminder that not even one of the best in the sport can hit their way out of historical context in this game. Judge tied Maris to beat the Babe, hitting home run No. 61 in game 155 of the season. This time, there was no consternation, only congratulations.
62 seems to be inevitable, and it will come at home in front of the Bronx faithful. Judge will be the official A.L. home run king and possibly win the triple crown all in the same season. But knowing Judge’s demeanor, it don’t mean anything without the chip.
So as the focus and pressure of 61 fades away, the Yankees slugger will assume the next pressure; brining New York its 28th World Series Championship, much the way Maris did in 1961.