Tim Barto: Former Anchorage Glacier Pilot Aaron Judge is new single-season home-run champ

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By TIM BARTO

In 2011, Aaron Judge, coming off his freshman year at Fresno State University, played a summer of baseball for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. He hit zero home runs that season.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, Judge, now right fielder for the New York Yankees, hit his 62nd home run of the season, setting the all-time American League record for a 162 game season. 

Judge is a big guy — six feet seven inches tall and weighing in at 282 pounds. He is also, by all accounts, a nice guy, an unabashed Christian who mingles with fans, poses for pictures, and is consistent and cordial with his teammates. Perhaps because of these characteristics, many fans now consider Judge to be the Major League single season home run leader, despite the fact that three individual players have hit 63 or more home runs during a season on six different occasions. 

The six occasions were accomplished by following players: Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, who hit 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999; Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs who belted 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999, and 64 in 2001; and Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants who went yard 73 times in 2001.

So why, then, is Judge considered by some to be not only the American League single season home run champ, but also the Major League single season home run champ, even with such statistical evidence to the contrary? Because Messrs. McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds hit all those home runs during the peak of what has become known as “The Steroid Era,” a period in which performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) were commonly used in the Major Leagues.

Let’s take a look at how off kilter those steroid years were.

Throughout Major League history, the mark of 50 home runs in a season has been met or exceeded 46 times by 27 different players. Babe Ruth was the first to do it when he hit 54 in 1920 (which, by the way, was more than every other American League team’s total that year). Ruth hit 50 or more home runs in a season a total of four times between 1920 and 1928, including 60 in 1927, a record that would stand until Roger Maris broke it in 1961.  

(Here’s a weird side note to interrupt the barrage of statistics: Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Aaron Judge all played the same position (right field) for the same team (the New York Yankees) during their record setting seasons. So, kids, if you want to enhance your chances of setting a new American League home run record, play right field for the Yankees. Or take steroids.)

The second player to reach the 50 home run mark was Hack Wilson, who hit 56 in 1930. 

In the 61 seasons from 1930 to 1990, 18 players managed to hit 50 or more home runs.  

In the eight years between 1995 and 2003, the 50 home run mark was surpassed 18 times. 

It has been exceeded ten times since 2003, including Judge’s 2022 statistics. 

Those 1995-to-2003 seasons stand out like a steroid-enhanced thumb. 

Mark McGwire never tested positive for PEDs but eventually admitted he took them. Sammy Sosa never admitted to taking PEDs, but a leaked drug testing report revealed Sosa tested positive in 2003 (something Sosa continues to deny) along with 103 other players. Barry Bonds has never admitted to intentionally using PEDs despite a mountain of evidence . . . and evidence from a federal trial that found him guilty of obstruction of justice (a decision that was eventually struck down by a higher court). 

The only thing Barry Bonds has admitted to was being a “dumbass” (his own words). In addition to his single season home run record of 73, he also holds the career home record with 762, and set another record by winning seven Most Valuable Player awards. He should have been a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame, but in addition to the PED cloud hovering above his allegedly overgrown head, he was a surly character disliked everywhere but his hometown of San Francisco; and it is likely that this distasteful personality keeps Hall of Fame voters from providing him the grace they afforded the very likeable David Ortiz, whom they allowed into the hallowed chamber despite a positive PED test.

(Another weird side note: In his 22 seasons in the big leagues, Barry Bonds exceeded 46 home runs only one time – that record breaking year of 2001.)  

Last week when Judge was chasing Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, Roger’s son, not strangely named Roger Maris Jr., made it clear that should Judge hit 62 he should be considered the true record holder. On Tuesday evening after Judge did, in fact, hit number 62, Roger Jr. announced that “. . . we can now celebrate a new clean home run king!!”

I, for one, am hoping the former Anchorage Glacier Pilot is as clean as his image suggests. Baseball needs wholesome, honorable men to save the league and enhance the image of the game. 

Tim Barto is Vice President of Alaska Policy Forum and was the President of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks Baseball Booster Club until stepping down in September. He continues to love the game despite MLB’s seeming desire to destroy it.

Photo credit: Creative Commons – Aaron Judge | Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA

5 COMMENTS

  1. Mark McGwire played for the Pilots as well. He hit 50 home runs for he A’s in his rookie season before his body displayed obvious signs of steroid use.

  2. Another thing to keep in mind was that batters were not the only players to be using steroids. Pitchers used them too. So batters who didn’t take PEDs were at a disadvantage against pitchers who did.

    MLB looked the other way on steroid use in the late 1990s because they wanted to win back fans following the strike-marred season of 1994, when they had to cancel the World Series.

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