Doug Wolter: 60 home run threshold still means something
Aaron Judge home run watch continues
Home runs in major league baseball aren’t what they used to be.
What do I mean by that?
Well, for one thing, way back when, before George Herman Ruth came on the scene, they weren’t a thing. Baseball was a thinking man’s game then, and the measure of a ballplayer had to do with how well he was able to scrape for runs. Baseball was more of a “team” game then, and the favorite players were those who took extra bases and stole bases, and a double down the line scoring a runner from first base was as appealing as any muscle-bound slugger who could hit one out of the park and jog around the sacks.
Babe Ruth changed all that. Suddenly, fans clamored for longer hits over fences. And the joggers ruled.
That’s the way it is still, today, obviously. Power is what it’s all about, and there’s really no debate about whether that’s good or that’s bad. There are no more fans who relish the “dead ball era” way of doing things. And it’s impossible to go back to that, anyway.
But sixty home runs in a season isn’t as thrilling as it used to be. Which is, I think, ironic.
Some of us are old enough to remember when 60 home runs in a season was considered Herculean. It was once judged to be impossible that someone might surpass Ruth’s 1927 sixty-homer standard. And for many baseball fans who remembered Ruth, the idea that somebody might actually do it was both shocking and highly controversial.
Roger Maris, ironically a New York Yankee like Ruth, was hated by many because he had the audacity in 1961 to hit 61 homers. When Hank Aaron came along and surpassed Ruth’s 714 lifetime home run total, he was vilified by more than a few.
The numbers 60 and 714 were iconic once upon a time. Barry Bonds came along and hit 73 homers in one season and 762 in his career, and hardly anyone holds those numbers sacred.
Part of that probably has to do with the widespread belief that Bonds accomplished his feats through the use of steroids. Another reason might be that major league baseball doesn’t capture the attention of the average American sports fan like it once did.
Last week, another New York Yankee, Aaron Judge, reached the 60 mark and the baseball world began to ponder how many more he would hit before the 2022 regular season comes to an end. So far, he’s still at 60.
He’s not going to hit 73, but personally I think it doesn’t really matter. Sixty is still a magic number to us old-timers, and since Judge is a nice guy who no one ever said used steroids, it’s OK to root for him.
Consider the previous best home run years: Bonds 73, Mark McGwire 70, Sammy Sosa 66, McGwire 65, Sosa 64, Sosa 63 and Maris 61. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa were steroid users. Ruth himself, was the recipient of a fawning press that hid the reality that he was a pretty lousy human being. So that leaves Maris and Judge as the two most worthy slugging heroes.
It’s OK to forgive them, I think, for both of them being Yankees.