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Where Will Judge’s 62nd Home Run Fall in a Record Book of Asterisks?


When Roger Maris Jr. declared that Aaron Judge ought to be the single-season home run king along with his 62nd blast and that “baseball should do something” to make it so, it further prolonged the pretzel logic that has fueled debates surrounding the game for greater than six many years — and originated along with his father.

In a game that treasures each its home run records and comparative evaluation, perfect symmetry stays difficult to copy when eras are different and the game keeps changing.

When Roger Maris clouted his 61st home run of 1961 to pass Babe Ruth and set the Major League Baseball single-season record, the American League had moved to a 162-game schedule from 154 (the National League followed suit one season later).

It was then-Commissioner Ford Frick who first brought up the thought of placing “some distinctive mark within the record books” to indicate that Maris’s mark was set in a season that prolonged eight games beyond the schedule that Ruth’s Yankees had played. He said this pre-emptively in July 1961 after Maris smacked his thirty fifth homer to maneuver some three weeks ahead of Ruth’s record pace. Notably, Frick didn’t use the word “asterisk.” But that word quickly became shorthand to explain the spirit of his sentiment.

Now, 61 years later, it’s Maris’s eldest son who favors something akin to a “distinctive mark” to tell apart Judge’s A.L. record because the “clean” mark over the scandal-scarred M.L.B. single-season record of 73 set by Barry Bonds in 2001.

There was no official comment from baseball’s current commissioner, Rob Manfred, neither is there expected to be one, said an individual with knowledge of his considering who was not authorized to talk publicly. However the “asterisk” idea has stubbornly continued in public debate over time through changing numbers and transformative circumstances. With it, the so-called steroid era persistently ripples through modern times.

As a substitute of an asterisk, the broadcaster Bob Costas, honored with the Ford C. Frick Award on the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018 for his many years of excellence, promotes the thought of an introductory page that may be placed initially of baseball’s official record book.

“It will read,” Costas said, “something to the effect of, ‘Baseball has the longest and richest history of any American sport. Over time, the sport has undergone many changes, amongst them segregated, integrated, entirely day ball, mostly night ball, 16 teams and now 30 teams, train travel, cross-country air travel, higher mound, lower mound, reliance on relief pitchers, analytics, and significant amongst them the so-called steroids era through which many performances, especially by power hitters, were disproportionate to another era in baseball history. Fans will want to consider all those facts when considering the records reflected within the pages that follow.’”

Costas favors that approach over an asterisk because “you then’d have to contemplate asterisks for other circumstances.”

Others don’t think the game must go down the asterisked path of separating records from one another because, because the journalist and creator Howard Bryant said, “there already are emotional asterisks that exist.”

“No. 1 is 1947. By mentioning the yr, there’s the asterisk,” said Bryant, creator of a definitive book on the steroid era, “Juicing the Game” in addition to biographies of Henry Aaron and Rickey Henderson. “It was the yr Black players got to play. So you understand if it’s pre-1947, all those great players, Lou Gehrig never got to play against Black players, Honus Wagner never did, Babe Ruth never did. Conversely, Black players never got a likelihood to prove themselves against white players.”

Maris’s record of 61 homers stood for 37 summers, until Mark McGwire hit 70 and Sammy Sosa 66 in 1998. Three years later, Bonds smashed 73 to interrupt the record again. Sosa had two other seasons of 60-plus homers and McGwire one, all inside that 1998-2001 span. M.L.B. didn’t begin testing players for performance-enhancing drugs with penalty until 2004.

“We all know with Sosa’s numbers, there’s an asterisk just by mentioning his name,” Bryant said. “Ditto for Bonds, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and the remaining of them.

“So the one issue is while we live, all of us understand it. But once we’re gone, individuals who don’t remember it could not associate those years with an asterisk. I believe that’s OK. If we’ve done our jobs as chroniclers and storytellers, then history will remember this time for what it was. After which history will change and it is going to shape and it is going to reshape as history all the time does.”

Home runs have fueled imaginations throughout the sport’s history, and the sanctity of those particular records all the time has been paramount to fans relative to most other marks. As Costas noted, one yr after Maris surpassed Ruth, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Maury Wills stole 104 bases to interrupt Ty Cobb’s modern record of 96, set in 1915. Frick was still the commissioner in 1962, and though it was the primary season of the National League’s move to 162 games from 154, he didn’t involve himself as he did with Maris and Ruth.

One other recent example resides within the Yankees clubhouse with a teammate of Judge’s. When the reliever Zack Britton established the A.L. record by converting 60 consecutive save opportunities in 2017 for the Baltimore Orioles, he was still 24 behind Eric Gagne’s M.L.B. record. Gagne, who pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers within the National League, was later linked to steroids through the Mitchell Report in 2007 and didn’t deny it. That led some to suggest that Gagne’s record ought to be struck down and Britton’s upheld because the true mark.

Britton disagrees and still recognizes Gagne’s record because the true standard. He applies the identical considering to the house run record.

“People on the time were like, ‘Do you think that that’s still the record?’ and I said it was,” Britton said of Gagne’s mark. “It’s the record until it’s not. What Bonds did is the record, too.”

Even within the pandemic-shortened, 60-game season in 2020, M.L.B. didn’t consider special denotations for its statistics.

“In baseball there may be neither crying nor the asterisk,” John Thorn, M.L.B.’s official historian, said in an interview then. “No excuses, no pointless shorthand directing you to wrinkle your nose.”

A part of the Maris/Ruth controversy, Costas said, existed because “there have been many fans and members of the media who were still alive and had seen Babe Ruth play. Babe Ruth wasn’t like a mythical cartoon character to them, he was an actual thing. And so they weren’t mistaken in saying that Maris, as admirable as he was, was not as transcendent a figure as Ruth. Lots of people figured, well, if anybody’s going to do it, Mickey Mantle’s an authorized Hall of Famer.”

Some who didn’t think Maris was deserving of surpassing Ruth can have even worked within the Yankees’ ticket office. On the ultimate two days of the 1961 season as Maris aimed for his 61st homer, the Saturday attendance at Yankee Stadium was announced as 19,061 and the Sunday attendance was announced as 23,154.

Andy Strasberg, creator of the book “My 61,” which chronicles his young fandom rooting for his hero Maris throughout the 1961 season, grew close with the Maris family over time and is each the namesake and godfather to Andrew Maris, the slugger’s grandson (and son of Randy Maris). Strasberg also worked within the ticket and marketing departments for the San Diego Padres from 1975-96. He’s all the time believed those attendance totals were a hidden dig at Maris, essentially adding an asterisk to the box rating.

“There’s absolute confidence in my mind that the ticket office guy was not glad and that was his way,” Strasberg said. “My guess is he wouldn’t screw around with the 19,000 or the 23,000, but the opposite numbers, he did.”

Strasberg said that the 1961 reference on Saturday was comprehensible. But regarding the 154-game reference within the listed attendance of 23,154 on the record-breaking day, he said, “now you’re shoving it in my face.”

Similarly, those now chasing the past with asterisks think those that distorted the record book within the late Nineteen Nineties and the early 2000s were flaunting it too obviously.

“I believe what’s really in play here is that if this was only a Yankees record and an American League record, which technically it’s, outside of Latest York it wouldn’t be that big a deal,” Costas said. “An enormous percentage of fans, not a bunch of get-off-my-lawn guys, not haters, but reasonable fans who understand what transpired, put what Bonds, McGwire and Sosa did in a distinct category.”

It’s one thing to position that group into a distinct category figuratively. But to achieve this literally is to rewrite history and reauthor events that too many individuals witnessed and watched occur, and modern baseball has steadfastly declined to do this.

“To me, plenty of what took place with what they were taking wasn’t against the principles at the moment,” Mets reliever Adam Ottavino said. “You’ll be able to argue it was against the law, however it wasn’t against the baseball rules. I don’t wish to take that away from them, but at the identical time I need to make certain that folks understand Judge’s record is a distinct circumstance.”

That’s a crucial point, Costas said.

“Too many individuals view this as a matter of morality and even criminality,” he said. “No. It’s a case of authenticity and legitimacy.”

James Wagner, David Waldstein and Benjamin Hoffman contributed reporting.

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