Mark McGwire and Aaron Judge's record-breaking home runs were both special, but they were surrounded by different emotions.
The ball lofted over the wall, and the slugger jogged around the bases, with everyone — fans, teammates, even opposing players — bearing witness to history.
This was a hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment.
Aaron Judge hit his 62nd against the Rangers Tuesday (Texas has a way of allowing the big records to fall). Twenty-four years ago, when Judge was 6 years old, Mark McGwire became the first player to reach the milestone.
Their 62nd home runs were both special, but they were surrounded by different emotions.
Big Mac and Sammy Sosa's aim at the record in 1998 was appointment viewing. After McGwire tied Roger Maris' 61 on Sept. 7, he followed up by hitting 62 the following night. The Cardinals were playing against the Cubs, and the Maris family (which has since tried to distance from the moment) shared a hug with the new home run champ, and the baseball world stopped and celebrated.
Since the record was shattered so early, with 18 games to play, it fueled weeks of speculation about many homers McGwire and Sosa would hit (they finished with 70 and 66 dingers, respectively). But there was a light, fun feel to it all. The years that followed, of course, would take away some of that innocence as we began to take stock of performance-enhancing drugs and the impact they’d had on the record books.
With Judge, after he hit his 60th home run on Sept. 20, a slump set in.
Maris famously started losing his hair as he challenged Babe Ruth's record, and similarly, Judge started losing his cool. He pressed in at-bats. He missed a few pitches he'd normally drive. He slammed his helmet and stewed as he watched video on his tablet, looking like a toddler on the verge of a meltdown.
The stress and pressure and bigness weighed on him.
He endured seven homerless games after hitting his 60th, then following his 61st, another five-game homer drought before finally breaking the record.
Where McGwire's 62nd was climactic, Judge's push for 62 was anticlimactic, taking us from "how many will he hit?" to "will he hit another one?"
Thankfully, he did hit another one. There was so much levity and relief in Judge after his monumental blast. He smiled seemingly for the first time in weeks.
He looked happy again, and for good reason. He'd smashed his 62nd.