VOL. 132 | NO. 164 | Friday, August 18, 2017
The Press Box
Believe It: 61 and 755 Are Real Home Run Records
By Don Wade
A few weeks ago I was at the Atlanta Braves’ new home, SunTrust Park. Predictably, the Braves were not up to the task of competing with baseball’s best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But give the Braves credit for the in-stadium exhibits on the concourse honoring their greatest players. Especially the one dedicated to the true all-time home run king, Hank Aaron.
Using bats, the display spells out 7-5-5 – the number of home runs Aaron hit over his magnificent 23-year career. He did this without ever hitting more than 47 home runs in a single season.
Consistency was Hammerin’ Hank’s weapon of intimidation as he eight times hit at least 40 home runs. His career ended in 1976, long before everyone from Lenny Dykstra and Brady Anderson to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were juicing their single-season and career home run numbers with performance enhancing drugs.
This year, home runs are again front and center as major leaguers are on track to hit more than in any season in the game’s history. The ball, the strike zone, and a stealth-like return of more PED use are all in the conversation.
Yet the two hitters attracting the most individual attention for the long ball are, for the moment at least, outside the arena of suspicion. The Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton is 6-6 and 245 pounds. New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge (a name of poetic justice?) is 6-7 and 282 pounds.
They seem to be natural giants. Crushing baseballs makes sense. Hank Aaron was, amazingly, just 6 foot and 180 to 190 pounds for much of his career. He also had forearms that would make a longshoreman blush and was a complete hitter (.305 career batting average).
Judge, 25, is just getting started. But he had hit 37 home runs in his first 115 games this season and one he hit landed in the third deck at the Mets’ Citi Field; the ball reportedly traveled 457 feet.
Perhaps more telling, the exit velocity was 117 mph and that was only Judge’s fifth-best velocity this season. He also has hit balls at 121.1, 119.4, 118.6 and 118.4 mph. In sum: They are the five hardest-hit balls in the majors this season. And yes, Judge also won the Home Run Derby as he hit four balls more than 500 feet.
Through Aug. 16 Stanton, 27, was sitting on 44 home runs, his career high. He was on pace to reach 60, which would tie him with Babe Ruth’s old record and leave him one short of Roger Maris’ 61 in 1961 with the Yankees.
“When you grow up watching all the old films of Babe Ruth and (Mickey) Mantle and those guys, 61 has always been that printed number,” Stanton told media after he fell two games short of matching his manager Don Mattingly’s streak of homering in eight straight games.
Stanton went on to say that Ruth’s record was tainted because it came before baseball integrated. Fair point. He also has reservations about the authenticity of Bonds’ “record” 73 home runs in 2001.
“Considering some things, I do,” Stanton said, adding, “At the same time, it doesn’t matter. The record is the record.”
Actually, no, it’s not. Neither is Bonds’ career 762 home runs the real record.
If Stanton can get to 62 this season (forget the five times McGwire and Sosa hit from 63 to 70 homers in a season), he’ll be the single-season home run leader.
Provided, of course, we don’t later have to consider some things we’d rather not.
Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.