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Aaron Judge & The Revising of Baseball History
Judge is a class act – cool as a cucumber, humble, and damned talented. He is not just a slugger.
I used to be a sportswriter. That’s how I eventually got the gig here. I was covering sports for a paper in Westchester called the North County News in the early 1990s and hosting sports-related radio shows when I finished my first book (on music, mind you), and was hired by the publishers to do the “sports thing.” I ended up penning a sports column for the East Coast Rocker during the mid-90s before moving back to my first love – bashing idiots, uncovering the folly of existence, and generally being an asshat. Also, music. Hence, Reality Check. Twenty-five years later, I’m still at it. But I’ve written my share of pieces on seminal and cultural news-making sports events and figures before in this space. And everyone knows I love the N.Y. Yankees. Grew up in the Bronx. My late dad was an epic fan, and for a time in my youth it was the one thing (as stated beautifully in Field of Dreams and one of the reasons I weep every damn time I watch the film) we could always talk about. In fact, we talked about the Yanks the last time I spoke with him. It was our thing. And I really wish he was here to see Yankees 30 year-old right fielder, Aaron Judge tie and then best a former Yankees right fielder, Roger Maris for the most home runs in the history of the Yankees franchise, the American League, and, as many important people around the sport are now arguing, all of baseball history.
It was so cool seeing Judge do it. I have followed him, as I’ve followed all Yankees players either through the farm system, trades, or free agency since the mid to late 60s, and he is a class act – cool as a cucumber, humble, and damned talented. He is not just a slugger. Like Maris before him, he is the league’s best defensive right fielder, and has played an excellent center field too, which is nuts because he is over six-foot tall, and you’d figure he couldn’t cover ground out there. But you would be wrong. At the time of this writing, he is also close to leading the AL in batting and well ahead in runs batted in – a solid hitter and super clutch. He was the right guy to stand together with Maris, and eventually surpass him with 62 dingers to become the all-time single season HR champ.
But he’s not, technically. Is he? This whole thing would have been so much more historic if there had not been the Steroid Era of the late 1990s into the first months of this century. Can you imagine how this would have reverberated throughout baseball – a sport of tradition and rich history, that reveres the names the N.Y. Yankees have rung down through the ages, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, etc., if after 61 years, another Yankees right fielder took the crown? The first guy wore #9, the new guy wears #99. Crazy fun! But nope. Baseball was silly with drug-jacked monsters for a spate, and that takes a bit of the sheen off this affair.
Although now a tougher chore to get to even 50 home runs today with league-wide drug testing, during the Steroid Era, a ton of heretofore mediocre major leaguers, bulked up on steroids or human growth hormones and other things, hit a lot of home runs, and still others rose above that crowded field to obliterate the single-season home run record nearly every fucking year. St. Lous Cardinals’ first baseman (a man I called “a human parade float” in these pages back in 1998 for a piece called “Freak Show Baseball”) hit 70, and Chicago Cubs right fielder, Sammy Sosa, hit over 60 homers twice, as did McGuire, buy the way. Both of those guys were okay players before the drugs, but it was when one of the best players in the game, Barry Bonds – allegedly motivated by the jealousy he felt for McGuire and Sosa, far lesser players than he – did every possible steroid and rub and gobbled every pill and took every shot he could get his hands on to become part android and belt 73 home runs in 2003.
Before the Steroid Era only two players hit over 50 home runs from the time when Maris broke Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark of 60 in ’61. But during it, weak hitting borderline major leaguers were routinely smacking 30, 40, 50 homers a year. What a wild time of misrule it was. It was so off the charts, the U.S. government had to get involved. The league woke up under its pile of money to “police” itself, so it could hold fast to its unconstitutional anti-trust exemption. That was when it conducted a series of “anonymous tests” on random players, although many of the names were leaked. Then came full testing that brough half-year to season-long suspensions for those caught doping. Immediately, offense, especially home runs, plummeted and players who were big-contract stars faded. The sport subsequently panicked and “juiced” baseballs to get homers back, but things got a tad goofy two years ago, so last year they deadened the balls, and fuck it – let’s get back to Aaron Judge’s incredible 2022 season.
Putting this all into perspective, Judge did something no one has done without juicing in 61 years, and only two others (both Yankees) have done sans performance enhancement substances. He’s had a season for the ages, and because of it, his achievements have drudged up all the past inequities to the MLB record books and prompted a revisionist view of the era from sportswriters, commentators and ex-players. This was already taking place in the Hall of Fame voting for McGuire, Sosa, and Bonds, as all of them, statistical locks for the Hall of Fame, have been consequently denied entry, bringing attention back to the true “legitimate” Single Season Home Run King, and, well, Aaron Judge.
Because of Judge’s exploits, another Aaron has also come to mind, the late, Hank Aaron. There is suddenly chatter on his 755 as the “legitimate” All-Time Career HR Record, calling into question the aforementioned Barry Bonds, who “artificially” drugged his way to 762. In a single season, Judge has done more than awake the echoes of Yankees greatness or thrill the league with his chase. He has reminded everyone of the folly of the Steroid Era two decades later. He did it, as far as we know, “clean,” as Roger Maris’s son said the day Judge tied his dad: “He should be the home run champ, and baseball should recognize it.”
I am not getting involved with that argument. I can only wrap this up by stating for the record that Aaron Judge had the best non-steroid season of my lifetime.
© James Campion October 9th 2022
email: realitycheck at jamescampion.com
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James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”. +, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon” + “Accidently Like a Martyr – The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon” and published on June 1st, 2022, “Take a Sad Song…The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude".
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