Aaron Judge's season is about more than the home run mark. It's about immortality.
Aaron Judge is having a season for the ages.
He entered Wednesday's action with 54 home runs and 27 games left to play. If he continues the pace he's set throughout the season, he'll wind up with 10 or 11 more home runs, finishing somewhere in the 64-65 range.
Only three players in MLB history — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — have hit more home runs in a season, and no one in the history of the American League, which was established in 1901, has ever reached that total.
He's poised to blow past Babe Ruth and Roger Maris, the current AL standard bearers, in the coming weeks.
Ruth's 60 home runs in 1927 and Maris' 61 in 1961 are seen by some purists as the "true" records in an effort to diminish the accomplishments of players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs (notably, Maris was disparaged at the time because his record came in a 162-game season, as opposed to 154 for Ruth). But upholding Ruth and Maris while cheapening the others fails to account for the color line or expansion teams that watered down the competition they faced.
Each era of baseball has its own quirks. Asterisks, if you will. We may very well look back at Judge's accomplishments 20 or 30 years from now through a different lens.
Either way, seasons like his don't come around very often.
That becomes evident when considering the gap between Judge and this year's other home run leaders. Judge is ahead of the American League's second best home run hitter, Shohei Ohtani by 22 home runs and NL leader Kyle Schwarber by 18 homers.
Here is a list of the players who've had a bigger lead over the second-ranked home run hitter (National and American leagues) in any season.
35 - Babe Ruth, 1920 - 54 home runs (second place George Sisler, 19)
35 - Babe Ruth, 1921 - 59 (Bob Meusel, 24)
26 - Babe Ruth, 1926 - 47 (Hack Wilson, 21)
23 - Babe Ruth, 1928 - 54 (Wilson and Jim Bottomley, 31)
19 - Babe Ruth, 1924 - 46 (Jack Fournier and Joe Hauser, 27)
That's it. That's the list. The Sultan of Swat. And at the end of this season, maybe Judge.
Judge's level of domination has never been seen in a 60-plus home run season. Typically, marquee home run totals involve teammates matching each other homer for homer or dingers up across the majors. In 1927, Ruth topped teammate Lou Gehrig by 13 home runs, 60 to 47, while in 1961, Maris bested Mickey Mantle 61 to 54. Other record seasons saw tons of home runs hit, such as 1998, with the home run chase between McGwire (70) and Sosa (66) or the 2001 season, when Bonds topped Sosa by nine home runs.
But that's not the case this year. Home runs across baseball are down about 25 percent from their expected rate, according to stats by the website BallparkPal.com. The most likely culprit for the league-wide power outage is a "dead ball" — changes in the baseballs used in games have made them fly not so high or far when hit, turning anticipated home runs into warning track outs. Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred, of course, have been cagey about the "dead ball" issue over the past few years.
With a "live ball," Judge may very well have topped Bonds' record. MLB, by using a "dead ball," has all but assured that Bonds will remain the single-season home run champion.
Judge's season really isn't about records, though. Whether he hits 73 or 65 or 63 or 68, he is a one-man wrecking crew making deadened baseballs fly as far as they can, the closest thing to Ruth, as a hitter, that we've seen.