Steroids ruined baseball*.
That asterisk? Well, that's always going to be there. In the record books, in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in the hearts of every fan who ever loved languishing in the sun while nine men played the mentally and physically exhausting game of baseball.
But let's clear something up about that asterisk. We, the fans of this game, the writers who cover it and the men who play it, made sure the asterisk was permanently stamped on the game.
However, if you're thinking that the asterisk came around after Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds jacked up their bodies with chemicals to obliterate the home run records, you're wrong. The asterisk has been alive and well for decades in America's pastime, and we're about to be reminded why - by one of the most insane home run seasons the game has ever seen. And by a player on a team known for historical feats.
Aaron Judge Goes Yard
Aaron did not burst onto the scene when he made his major league debut in 2016. In fact, Judge was so bad, that Gary Sanchez appeared to be the savior of the Bronx. But Judge wasn't the kind of player to let one season define him. No, in fact, Judge took those shortcomings and turned them into fuel. In 2017 Aaron Judge put MLB on notice, putting together a season that really should have won him the AL MVP. Here comes that pesky asterisk again.
Jose Altuve, the second baseman for the Houston Astros, was also having a stellar year. Despite having Altuve beat in important categories like bWAR, Home Runs (HR), Runs Batted In (RBI), Runs and OPS, Judge only received two first place votes. Altuve isn't known for being a power hitter, although Houston's star can take any pitcher deep. But he is known for his ability to hit, find holes and get on base. Altuve's .346 batting average was the best in the entire league in 2017, a full 15 points above the next closest player. It's almost as if he knew what pitch was coming his wa- Oh, wait, I forgot. The 2017 MLB Season has an asterisk due to the Houston Astros Sign-Stealing Scandal.
But it's not like they won the ALCS in seven games against Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees, right? Oh, wait. Yep. Forgot again. Asterisk.
A Yankees Legend* Bests a Yankees Legend
The asterisk in baseball could be used to note something interesting or singular. Fernando Tatis, the father of steroid-user Fernando Tatis Jr., should have an asterisk next to his career home run total, noting that two of these home runs came in the same inning and both were grand slams. Something fun! Instead, we've used the asterisk to help the negative stand out. No one player understands that more than Roger Maris.
Roger Maris' 1961 season is a marvel, there's no other way to put it. Of his 159 hits, 61 were home runs, which is insane. That means if Maris got a hit in a game that season there was a 38 percent chance that hit was a home run. For comparison, Barry Bonds had 155 hits in his record-breaking 73 home run season (47 percent), Mark McGwire needed only 152 hits to reach his record of 70 in 1998 (46 percent). Those are the steroid numbers, of course. But for Maris, there was another player who needed 192 hits to reach 60 home runs back in 1927.
Babe Ruth is more myth than man in baseball history. Perhaps advanced analytics have changed the way we look at The Babe, but truly, there's no way around it: Babe Ruth was the greatest player to ever play the game. Don't believe me? Check out his WAR. Babe Ruth was unstoppable.
But if there's one thing that could stop the Babe, it was time. Records are meant to be broken. Records give the next generation something to strive for, a new mountain to climb, a new level to reach. But to the baseball elitists, Babe Ruth needed to be protected at all costs, even if it came at the expense of another Yankee.
When Roger Maris smacked his record-setting 61st home run over the right field wall in Old Yankee Stadium, the New York outfielder had been through hell. His hair was falling out, he began to struggle with his mental health on a daily basis and all of that was made worse by the the fans he seemingly played for. According to baseball pundits and purists, Maris' record needed context when held to the same standard of Ruth's historic season total. Maris played in 161 games, whereas Ruth only played in 151 in 1927. To the vocal majority, Maris' record was tainted and Ruth's was pure.
The asterisk was planted on Maris' 61 home runs, until 1998 when two men, juiced up on anabolic steroids, finally lifted the burden off Maris' shoulders.
Why Aaron Judge's Home Run Heroics Are Important
There are few moments in the game of baseball nowadays that truly capture the splendor of America's pastime. Often the magic of the game is overshadowed by the analytic dissection of a hard hit ball or the spin rate on a curveball as it drops from 12 to 6. And then there's Aaron Judge in 2022.
Aaron Judge's season has been pure, un-asterisked baseball at its best. When Judge steps into the box, it's a staring contest between him and the pitcher. It's chess, it's a battle, each at-bat a perfect example of why baseball is the greatest game in the world. So, what makes Judge's season so special? He's reviving a spirit of the game not seen since 1961 and Roger Maris.
I recently had a friend refer to Barry Bond's single-season home run record as the "Steroid Record" and it's hard to disagree with that. While Bud Selig and MLB did let steroids run rampant in the game, it doesn't remove the fact that Barry Bonds did hit 73 home runs in a single season. So instead, let's put Aaron Judge's monster season against two of the greatest single season home run hitters, who just so happen to have worn the same uniform that Judge currently wears.
Whether you like them or not, the New York Yankees are the most important team in MLB history. With 27 rings to their name, a cathedral of a ballpark and one of the most recognizable logos in the world, it's hard to argue against that fact. Being one of the greatest Yankees to ever play is not just a great honor, it's something that immortalizes you, it canonizes your name and puts you on a fast track to have your face on a plaque in centerfield. Besting any Yankee great is not just a franchise feat, it's a moment for the entire league.
The last time a player bested a Yankee hitter, without the help of chemicals, was in 1961. Now, just over 60 years later, another Yankee is taking the mantle and running with it.
Aaron Judge's home run record is one of the greatest accomplishments in the last 40 years in baseball, and it's about time we all acknowledged that.
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