COMMENTARY: Standing in judgement on No. 62

Dear Aaron Judge:

Congratulations on No. 62 from a Red Sox fan so die-hard he watched every game of an unwatchable 2022 season right through Wednesday’s finale.

Though, over the past week, whenever you were due up, I cut away from NESN to YES or whatever network was broadcasting your games. History, as it boils and bubbles, simmers and stews, is rarely served on a plate so clean.

And the history of the game, more than even the Sox, is where my ultimate baseball affinitiy lies.

I think most true baseball fans would say the same — those fans who consider baseball, with all its sins and miracles, obstinance and innovation, tobacco spit and poetry, the greatest of American games.

Those fans were pulling for you to hit 62 even if they’d only read about Maris in ’61 and Ruth in ’27. They were pulling for you to win a Triple Crown even if they’d only heard from their fathers about Yaz in ’67 and Mantle in ’56.

Those fans, quite early in the summer of 2022, recognized baseball history unfolding, with the added bonus of Albert Pujols reaching 700. Even if it came at their team’s expense, they were probably cheering.

I know I was.

And, for months now, I’ve been stating what should now, finally, be crystal clear and beyond dispute: Aaron Judge is the American League Most Valuable Player. Time’s up, put your pencils down. It should be unanimous.

I understand the significance of Shohei Ohtani. I understand why Mike Trout won in years past.

I also understand their team once again came nowhere close to making the postseason — and this in an era of expanded playoffs. Ruth joined a hapless Yankees operation in 1920, had them in their first World Series a year later and launched the most checkered franchise of all-time.

A century later, you carried the Yankees when they were on the verge of coughing up a massive lead in the AL East and the fan base was freaking out. You steadied a shaking ship and got it into port. 

MVPs do that. 

And, yeah, the 62 home runs. And the 131 RBIs and the .311 average and the solid D and a deep measure of class.

And no performance-enhancing drugs.

Which brings us to the main point of this ramble and the debate that will forever rage: Should your 62 stand as the true Major League single-season record or just the American League mark?

The warm-blooded idealist in me, who will forever believe in the old-fashioned notions of honor and fair play, dismisses the drug-inflated accomplishments of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa and recognizes Henry Aaron and the Babe, Roger Maris and now you as the game’s true home run kings.

And yet the cold-eyed historian, who must assess the facts as they stand, acknowledges the higher-arcing reality. PEDs were the hallmark and stat-shaper of a certain era just as deadballs and juiced balls and spitballs and higher mounds and segregated rosters were hallmarks and stat-shapers of others.

Yes, yes: Unlike a juiced baseball, with which everyone played, juiced players were not universal. Not everyone took PEDs. But enough did to distort the record.

The root problem, of course, is that Major League Baseball too long buried its head on PEDs, just as Major League Baseball too long buried its head on gambling and segregation.

How much did betting alter outcomes before the 1919 Black Sox scandal finally forced baseball to clean house? How different would the record book read had Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and the Negro League stars been allowed to take the MLB stage before 1947? 

And just how many home runs would Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have hit had their bodies remained in natural proportion to their younger selves?

Major League Baseball dithered and we live with the consequences.

I confess: I got caught up in the hoopla surrounding McGwire and Sosa in ’98, and I should have known better. Proof was in plain sight.

By the time Bonds commanded the spotlight, I knew for sure and was disgusted. This wasn’t history unfolding, but some abomination of it.

And, yet, it is still history. I don’t believe in expunging records or rewriting books. Totalitarians do that. Oceania was always at war with Eurasia until Oceania was always at war with Eastasia.

The Major League records are what they are. They happened and they must stand, as wrong as some may seem.

But there is a caveat, Mr. Judge, and not just for me, I’m sure. Bonds’ 762 and 73 are numbers on a page I have to consult from time to time to recall. Aaron’s 755 and Ruth’s 60 and Roger’s 61 and now your 62 are the numbers I carry in my head and know by heart.


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