Baseball has a new home run king. Congratulations to Aspanron Judge and Linden, Calif.
That’s the town Judge is from. The only wistful part of the big Yankee hitting his 62nd home run is it moved Roger Mspanris and Gainesville to No. 2 on the non-MLB approved hometown home run list.
But take heart, Gainesville. We can all rejoice that the new home run king isn’t from Steroid City, Calif.
That was Barry Bonds’ address when he hit 73 home runs in 2001. Fans know it, players know it, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred knows it, and the Maris family darned sure knows it.
That’s why Roger Maris Jr., has used Judge’s home run chase as a platform to right a lingering wrong.
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“Aaron Judge is the new CLEAN HOME RUN KING!!,” he tweeted Tuesday night. “All the young kids who watched Aaron Judge set the single-season record for home runs … you finally have someone to revere! No more trying to explain to you how someone could possibly hit 73 home runs.”
They can’t, at least not without the help of pharmaceuticals. Squaring that circle has been a perpetual conundrum for Major League Baseball.
You can’t deny Bonds hit 73 dingers, just as you can’t deny Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa also surpassed the 61 homers Maris hit in 1961.
But you can darned sure deny what the three steroid stooges did was legit. You can proclaim Judge didn’t just set the American League record, he is now MLB’s single-season home run king. And you can make the record book differentiate between home runs and PED home runs.
That’s what Maris is asking MLB to do. Manfred’s response has been to cover his ears.
MLB still living down The Steroid Era
The Steroid Era is like a long strand of toilet paper stuck to MLB’s shoe. Manfred’s just happy Judge’s quest ended Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas. Now Maris might slink quietly back to Gainesville, where his father retired in 1968.
Roger Sr. died in 1985 and is buried in his hometown of Fargo, N.D. But the Maris roots are deep in Alachua County.
Roger and his wife, Pat, raised six kids here. Randy Maris coached at St. Francis Catholic Academy. Oak Hall coach Kevin Mspanris won his 300th game this spring. He did it at Roger Maris Field, on the sod his father helped lay.
The family was rooting for Judge to break the record. After all, he is a Yankee. But even if he played for the Red Sox, the Marises would appreciate Judge for the attention he’s refocused on their father.
That 1961 season is baseball lore. Maris was chasing Babe Ruth’s mythological mark of 60 home runs. The public was enamored with teammate Mickey Mantle.
Maris’s hair fell out under the strain. Expansion gave Maris eight more games to play than Ruth, so commissioner Ford Frick decreed that a “distinctive mark” should accompany Maris’s accomplishment.
Call Bonds, McGwire, Sosa … Barry McBondsa
Yes, the family that chafed under an asterisk for 30 years now wants to hang one next to McGwire, Bonds and Sosa. Those names are so steroid synonymous, it’s simpler to just call them Barry McBondsa.
The asterisk irony hasn’t been lost on baseball cognoscenti. Some have deemed the Marises hypocrites for cheering the home run derby McGwire and Sosa staged in 1998. The family embraced McGwire and declared him the new home run king.
The McBondsa apologists rationalize how baseball has always had drunks, druggies and cheats. How we can’t be sure Judge isn’t taking some super-advanced undetectable PED. How Bonds in particular would be a first-ballot Hall of Fame even if he’d never gotten the platinum membership at BALCO lab.
It’s true, Mr. Potato Head still would have hit a ton of home runs in his career. But everybody knows Bonds was juicing like a Russian sprinter in 2001.
So were McGwire and Sosa in 1998, though it wasn’t quite as obvious. A small brown bottle of Androstenedione was spotted in McGwire’s locker that August. That was quickly swallowed in the home run hype that was revitalizing baseball.
In retrospect, the Maris family felt duped. And you know who else felt the family was duped?
He later called to apologize to Pat Maris for putting on the home run charade. Hopefully, she’s not waiting by the phone to hear from Bonds or Sosa. Or even Manfred.
When it comes to Judge, the commissioner says, “Those groups that matter are going to make their own judgments about how his accomplishments should be weighed.”
It is dicey to start splitting hairs on past sins, but this one’s pretty simple. It is a single season record. Everybody with more than 62 home runs cheated.
Just like Maris, Judge did not.
Manfred’s right about one thing, however. Everybody will make their own judgment about the record.
Judge has said publicly it is 73. I doubt he feels that privately, but that’s okay. If you’re okay with steroid fraud, so be it. You’ll be happy to know MLB will continue to tacitly endorse your position.
But Roger Maris Jr. has given voice to millions of fans. They know who the real home run king is.
Even before Judge assumed the throne, it never was Barry McBondsa.