Tuesday August 30, 2022
Judge, Ruthian in His Solitude, Hits No. 50
I like the pitcher looking straight up. Nope, not there, kid.
Aaron Judge hit his 50th homerun in a 4-3 loss to the Angels in Anaheim last night.
Here's a breakdown of 50-homerun seasons by decade. See if you can spot the anomaly.
Yeah. You could say it began with Fielder (Cecil) and it ended with Fielder (Prince).
I grew up in the '70s, when 50-homerun seasons were exceedingly rare-to-nonexistent. Harmon Killebrew always seemed to hit 49, and he led the league. Willie Mays' back in '65 was the last, and no one would do it again until George Foster in the expansion year of '77. Then nothing until 1990. And then everything.
Related: Last night I went to Elliott Bay Books to see SABR's Mark Armour talk about his book, “Intentional Balk: Baseball's Thin line Between Innovation and Cheating,” with Seattle sportswriter Art Thiel. It was a small, nerdy crowd so I fit right in. My main takeaways: Everyone is still angrier at the 2017 Houston Astros than I am; many are less angry about the steroid era than I am; and the problem is still one of regulation. And the problem with that is that Major League Baseball doesn't really have an independent regulatory body. They have a commissioner, who is hired by and subservient to the owners. At some point during the evening I had this epiphany: Baseball will condone, or at least ignore, cheating as long as it's good for business (McGwire and Sosa in '98). Baseball will crack down on it if it's bad for business (spider-tack in '21) or if it becomes obvious or problematic (Barry Bonds in '01 and '07). The above chart is why the steroid era is still a scandal to me: the stain it left on the record books can't be washed away. It can't even be parsed.
That chart also underlines how, for much of baseball history, hitting 50 was a pairs thing. It was rarely just one guy. Both Foxx and Hank Greenberg did it in 1938, then nothing until 1947 when Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner turned 50s. Mays and Mantle went 50 in back-to-back years in the mid-50s, and both Mantle and Maris threatened 60 in '61. In the steroid era it was McGwire and Sosa trading leads and mock-punches to the stomach. Even in the post-steroid era (if we're in that), Stanton and Judge sent them soaring together (in opposite leagues) in 2017.
When wasn't it two guys? Foxx in '32 was by himself: 58 to Ruth's 41. Ditto Kiner in '49: 54 to 43 for Ted Williams. George Foster hit 52 when the next best was Jeff Burroughs' 41. The greatest gap, of course, is 1920 when Babe Ruth remade baseball. First place, Babe Ruth: 54. Second place, George Sisler: 19.
This is another single-guy year: second to Judge's 50, at the moment, is Kyle Schwarber's 36. Judge is all alone up there. He's Ruthian in his solitude. The talk is whether he can beat Maris' record, as if it were still the record, or New York talks about whether he can beat Maris' Yankee record. But there's another big deal here. Judge might be the first guy since Ruth to hit 60 when no one else in Major League Baseball hits 50.