A year ago my wife and I spent part of a weekend in Fargo, North Dakota.
We watched our son play football and visited the Roger Maris museum. The visit to the museum was at the request of my wife. She’s a huge Maris fan and knows more about baseball history than 99% of the so-called “experts”.
It was a big call from him.
For the uninformed, the late Roger Maris is the man who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961, enduring all levels of hell en route to making baseball history. Maris hit 61 homers, beating Ruth’s mark of 60 in one season.
Along the way, there were jeers from fans, an unruly press because Maris was painfully shy when talking about his exploits, a Yankees front office that didn’t trust an outsider being excellent in stripes, and Yankees and baseball fans avoiding Maris at every turn. Mickey Mantle, the local Yankee and American hero – if there is one – must have been the one to move the Bambino aside.
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Heck, the commissioner of baseball, a longtime sheet from The Babe, attached a ridiculous asterisk next to the record because Maris shot to fame in the 1962 games, while Ruth set the mark in a 154-game season .
Husbands breaking Ruth’s mark, might have been the most misunderstood but greatest sporting achievement of all time. If you’ve ever tried hitting a round ball with a round bat, you’ll understand.
Husbands, for many of us, especially my 27-year-old fiancée, remains the single-season champion of baseball. The same goes for the late Henry Aaron and his career homer mark of 755.
As I write this, Yankees judge Aaron is on the verge of breaking Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season. He is at 55 homers and expected to hit 63 for the season.
I can live with what Judge does. More importantly, Mrs. Marx, Mr. Marise’s biggest fan, agrees with what Judge is doing.
The 30-year-old Yankee outfielder isn’t a baseball star via modern chemistry. Maris’ so-called record breakers and current holders were.
As a nation, we may be closed-minded fools in politics, but we’re not stupid in baseball. Steroids and their many variables have their dirty mitts all over the baseball record books.
For those of you who want to poke holes in that theory – if you can take the time to complain about being a Republican or a Democrat – I know that Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) each broke the record. de Maris of 61 circuits. in 1998 and Barry Bonds then broke McGwire’s mark in 2001, doing ya-ya 73 times.
In this group you have two admitted cheaters (McGwire and Bonds) and another (Sammy Sosa) continues to deny taking more than Flintstone vitamins to improve his game. Only McGwire came forward and was outspoken. Bonds “I didn’t know for the clear.” The admission is hollow regarding an applied steroid cream. It’s safe to say that more than Sosa’s bat was clogged during his career and Bonds’ body was filled with a slew of syringe amplifiers. McGwire has already admitted he was under pressure.
Worse still, Major League Baseball — with cheating evident before it — turned a blind eye. We all did it, myself included. After the 1994 strike, fans shunned big league baseball en masse. McGwire and Sosa, in 1998, brought them back en masse through modern chemistry. Two years later, Bonds, angry at the others making all the headlines, carved his own name into the fake record books. If you think the three were clean when they broke a record set more than three decades earlier, check and see if Bonds, McGwire and Sosa were enshrined in Cooperstown.
That’s why Judge, if he manages to surpass the Maris mark of 61, should be considered the all-time home run leader for a season. Compared to those that preceded it, the game is more difficult today, by the velocity of the launcher alone. The average Major League fastball is 93.6, which – for those who don’t know – is like an aspirin tablet dropping on you with a climb, spin or drop. In 1998 you could count the number of pitchers throwing 100 miles an hour to one side, now every team has a couple dudes blowing a hundred.
Judge hits average, can play all three outfield positions and is a solid defender. He stays out of trouble and has never been asked for anything performance enhancing. It helps that he’s 6-foot-7 and weighs 280 pounds, but that doesn’t make a difference when you’re trying to get out in front of a dude directing him to the flat at 98 mph.
The judge should be praised for his celebrated skills and exploits. A class act, playing the game the right way, without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs.
It should be noted that during our visit to the Husbands Museum, my wife repeatedly said that her favorite player of all time should be in the Hall of Fame. Do what you want for McGwire, for Bonds and for Sosa, those last two who were horrible teammates, none of the three should be mentioned in the same breath as Maris.
And if Judge passes Maris, hats off. Baseball will finally have a legitimate single-season home run record holder.
John Marx is a columnist for The Dispatch/The Rock Island Argus and the Quad City Times.