Summary Judgement: 62 in ’22

Aaron Judge

“I think it won’t sink in until the offseason.—Aaron Judge became the AL’s new single-season home run king at last Tuesday night in Texas.

Maybe Aaron Judge should be playing things like the stock market. Without making as grand a show of things as observers paid to be so grand (and perhaps foolish), he gambled early that he could turn his first walk year into something big when he achieves his first free agency.

He probably didn’t think he’d smash a longstanding American League home run record along the way. Certainly not in a season in which hitting across the major league board was at one of its lowest levels in the professional game’s history and he could never be certain he’d get a miniature medicine ball or a turbocharged orb to launch.

But smash it Judge did Tuesday night. In the second game of a doubleheader in Texas. If you’re going to slam the season’s biggest exclamation point down but you can’t do it in front of the home audience, there are few places bigger than there to do it.

Batting leadoff for the 106th time at all this year, and batting first in the lineup for the 34th time, Judge squared up Rangers righthander Jesus Tinoco’s slightly hanging slider on 1-1 and drove it parabolically several rows up the lower left field seats. Even the Globe Life Field audience couldn’t contain their pleasure in seeing the Leaning Tower of 161st Street make American League history.

Almost a full week after he met Roger Maris, with the Yankees having banked the AL East title in the same week, the tall swinger from California passed the comparatively compact swatter from the Dakotas. And unlike Maris’s abusively unfair experience in 1961, Judge got there with almost universal approval from the moment it looked as though he had a serious shot at getting there.

There was nothing unfair about Judge’s achievement, unless you count that this is a young man to whom you can throw a ball of Play-Doh and he can still hit it across the county line. Tinoco had never faced Judge before and had only surrendered one home run in 19.2 innings work on the season before Judge rang his and history’s bells.

“We knew it was going to happen and nobody wants to give it up,” said Tinoco—a reliever but pitching as the Rangers’ second-game opener Tuesday night, “but it’s part of the game. I challenged him and he hit it. That’s my job. All I can say is ‘congratulations’ to him.”

“I know he has a nasty sinker and a nasty slider,” said Judge postgame. “We were kind of waiting to hear who the starter of Game Two was gonna be. When I heard it was him, I saw what he did the night before and I said, ‘This isn’t a good matchup to start the game off with a guy with high velocity like that and a good off-speed pitch.’ So going into it, I think that helped me relax: ‘Hey, this is a good pitcher. Let me go up there and let’s see what happens’.”

Maybe he pressed a little too much between home runs 61 and 62. Maybe the opposition pressed a little hard trying to pitch around him until Tinoco’s slider didn’t slide enough. Maybe, too, Judge clung just hard enough to his insistence that, sure, it’d be great to do it, but he had more important things such as postseason prep to think about.

But maybe even this still-boyish looking galoot who softens the most when interacting with the children who like and admire him while maintaining his privacy otherwise without an ostentatious harrumph wanted the record so badly he could taste it even up with whatever he’d had for a meal before and after his long day’s work of play Tuesday.

The Yankees won the first of the twin bill without Judge going long. They ended up losing 3-2 in the nightcap Judge opened so historically, before he was given the rest of the night off by manager Aaron Boone, following a second-inning strikeout and a double switch of second baseman Oswaldo Cabrera to Judge’s position in right field, shortstop Oswald Peraza to second, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa out to play short.

A few hours after the second game ended and he’d run the gamut of reporters and well-wishers, Judge reportedly found some quiet in the clubhouse until a small voice reached his ears. Asking who was there, Judge then found himself spending a little time with Yankee catcher Jose Trevino’s little son, Josiah.

The gentle giant who helped make a Toronto kid’s week after seeing the kid in tears of joy when an adult Blue Jays fan handed him a ball Judge sent into the Rogers Centre upper deck in May spends as much time entertaining his teammates’ kids as he does entertaining fans in the stands with blasts past the ionosphere.

It may not yet have hit him completely that he’d claimed one of the most sacred pages in the AL record book for his own. And it may take the length of the postseason, however long the Yankees prove to stay there, before it does.

“In my book,” the Leaning Tower of 161st Street said after the second doubleheader game, “it’s just another day. I wish we would have gotten the win, that would have made it a little sweeter I think. But I’m going to try to soak it in, soak in the moment with my family, and get ready for the game tomorrow. I think it won’t sink in until the offseason.”

That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Even through his very visible effort to suppress his patented big snaggle-tooth grin as he rounded first heading for second. Even with his teammates swarming from the dugout starting about two seconds after he dropped his bat to run the bomb out. Even with his wife, Samantha Bracksieck, and his parents, Wayne and Patty Judge, leading the loud ovation.

“We just wanted it to happen so bad,” said Yankee pitcher Gerrit Cole postgame. “I don’t know if that’s pressing, or just hoping hard. We were all just hoping really hard, I think.”

Maris’s 1961 teammates pressed just as hard for him to make it once Mickey Mantle fell out of that unwarrantedly-controversial chase with a hip abscess. But they were almost alone there. Thanks to a capricious conflicted-of-interest commissioner and a particularly nasty contingency in the baseball press of the time, Maris was denied his due for driving a baseball idol (some think sacred cow) to one side.

Judge has tried to sustain his sense of proportion throughout the entire run. Maybe come the postseason he and his wife will kick their shoes off and romp and play in wild celebration. First, he has his sixth postseason in as many seasons of being a Yankee to play.

Maris, a refugee from the then-Indians and the Kansas City Athletics, and the AL’s defending Most Valuable Player while he was at it, was en route his second consecutive World Series in a Yankee uniform. They lost a seven-game heartbreaker to the Pirates in 1960 but won a five-game laugher against the upstart Reds in 1961.

For daring to challenge and pass the Sacred Babe, Maris was battered unconscionably in ways that would be called child abuse if done by a parent to a child.

“At the plate, he heard obscene abuse from the creeps who think that a ticket to the game entitles them to horsewhip the entertainers,” wrote sportswriting legend Red Smith, then still with the New York Herald-Tribune.

Off the field he was badgered ceaselessly by fans, the press, radio-TV, press agents, promoters. Only on rare occasions did this quiet, candid young man let his temper slip, and then it was due to some especially outrageous question or repeated references to “pressure,” with the implication that he was choking up.

Some social media idiots thought and said the same about Judge as he laboured almost that full week to get from 61 to 62. For those who care about incompetent irrelevancy, let it be recorded that it took Judge two fewer plate appearances to hit 62 than it took Maris to hit 61.

Milton Gross of the New York Post, perhaps the only other writer in New York unwilling to even think about trying to beat Maris into submission or worse, had dinner with Maris and his wife plus their closest New York friends, Julie and Selma Isaacson, the evening that followed Maris’s money blast. When Isaacson toasted Maris, Gross wrote, Maris thanked him but added: “This was the greatest experience of my life. It has to be, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again for anything.”

Soon afterward, a teenage girl approached Maris politely for an autograph and asked him likewise to include the date. “What is today’s date?” Maris asked. Isaacson chimed in at once: “The date is the one you did what nobody else ever did.”

On 4 October 2022—65 years to the day after Sputnik launched the space race—the Leaning Tower of 161st Street did what nobody else in the American League ever did. You could hear Ruth and Maris together in the Elysian Fields, clinking glasses and quaffing a cold one in praise.

“I’d trade my past for his future,” the Babe must have said, knowing that Judge blasted himself toward a payday that might come close to equaling the U.S. Department of Defense’s annual budget.

“I’d trade your past for his future, too,” Maris must have cracked. “His future, and two stock splits to be named later.”

What really kept Maris from Cooperstown?

Roger Maris

Roger Maris in the Yankee clubhouse, 30 September 1961—the day before he swung his way into history.

Bad enough when I spot those in the baseball press I don’t know personally but perpetuate mythology over factuality. But now my editor at the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter, a man who’s become a friend in the bargain, does it.

Pondering Aaron Judge’s choice of number 99 on his Yankee uniform, Dan Schlossberg writes in today’s HTP, “Perhaps he knew he would become twice as good as [Roger] Maris? Certainly, Maris never chased a Triple Crown. In fact, his .260 lifetime batting average is the leading negative whenever his Hall of Fame candidacy is considered.”

Not even close, my good friend.

Mike Schmidt hit only seven points higher than Maris lifetime and that didn’t stop his election to the Hall of Fame. OK, that’s a ringer. Schmidt is the arguable greatest all-around third baseman ever to play the game. But his lifetime .267 hitting average didn’t exactly block him from Cooperstown, either.

There are lots of Hall of Fame players who hit in the .260-.269 range lifetime. Those modest hitting averages didn’t block them, either. They had other factors in their favour. And so might have Roger Maris except for one pair of problems.

Problem one: Maris was so badly seared by his pursuit and breaking of ruthsrecord in 1961 that there were times too many writers of the time believed he began to shy away from perpetuating the greatness that was his for the taking. Never permitted to enjoy truly the blessings of having cracked baseball’s single most prestigious record, Maris looked from there like a man to whom greatness was an intruder, not a companion.

Problem two: After a solid 1962 season, the injury bug began to hit Maris. Back trouble  limited him to ninety games in 1963. He had a bounceback 1964, with 26 home runs, despite missing twenty games with assorted leg injuries. Then came 1965 and the injury that should have proved scandalous for the manner in which the Yankees handled it.

First, Maris suffered a pulled hamstring that kept him out 26 games after the first three weeks of the 1965 season. Then, come 20 June, Maris jammed his hand against the plate umpire’s shin guard while sliding home. He tried playing a few after that, but the injury was severe enough to take him out of the second game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics and out of the Yankee lineup after 28 June.

Finally the hand injury was diagnosed as bone chips for which he underwent offseason surgery. It turned out to be far worse. The hand continued to bother him as he started 1966. At last he complained about the problem, and all that did was crank the New York sports press that never truly accepted him and the Yankees themselves into harrumphing that he had no business complaining.

The hand injury turned out to have been a misdiagnosed fracture. Whatever remained of his once-formidable home run power was gone. So was Maris’s desire to continue playing. He’d played through enough injuries as it was and felt unappreciated for the effort.  The Yankees aged profoundly during and after 1964, the final pennant winner of the old Yankee guard, but the Yankees needed the Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford box office more than they needed them properly healthy, so it seemed in retrospect.

The writers chose Maris as the primary culprit, often accusing him of loafing, as some teammates did, both of whose sides were unaware of the true severity of the hand injury. If you’re looking for evidence as to why other players become either paranoid or hypochondriacal about their physical health, Maris was key evidence on their behalf.

“For those who had refused to appreciate Maris in the early 1960s,” wrote his Society for American Baseball Research biographer Bill Pruden, “his injury-plagued performance in the middle part of the decade, coming when the Yankees as a team were faltering, only seemed to confirm their views.”

For a man who had never placed any individual accomplishment above winning, it was a difficult time. Indeed, tired of battling injuries, of trying to play, even when hurt, but never seeming to be appreciated for the effort regardless, Maris gave much thought to retirement. However, before that decision could be made, the struggling Yankees traded Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals for third baseman Charley Smith.

Maris continued to play a solid right field in St. Louis for two consecutive pennant winners and their 1967 World Series champions (he also had the best Series of his career individually), before retiring at last and accepting Cardinal owner Gussie Busch’s offer to operate a Budweiser beer distributorship in southern Florida. He throve in the business with his brother Rudy as his partner, until he succumbed to lymphoma at 51 in 1985.

Injuries, not indifference or loafing, put paid to Maris’s Hall of Fame case before he had the chance to solidify one following his Hall-caliber 1960-62 seasons. Meanwhile, my friend Schlossberg went on to write, “Maris batted just .269 [in 1961] against expansion-diluted pitching.” Halt right there, Daniel.

The fear of diluted pitching when the American League expanded for the first time was probably one of the factors animating commissioner Ford Frick’s scurrilous conflict-of-interest bid to deny anyone, Maris or otherwise, legitimacy in pursuing ruthsrecord in 1961. Well, now. Would you like to know how “diluted” the league’s pitching actually became?

I know I sure did. And I found out. Pay very close attention to the following table, showing the league’s 1960 and 1961 earned run averages, fielding-independent pitching rates, walks and hits per inning pitched, strikeouts per nine innings, and walks per nine.

AL Pitching ERA FIP WHIP K/9 BB/9
1960 3.87 4.00 1.37 4.9 3.6
1961 4.53 4.09 1.38 5.2 3.7

There was a 66 point jump in the league’s ERA for 1961, well enough shy of a full run’s difference. But look further and closer. That’s not the place you end pondering the difference in the league’s pitching from ’60 to ’61, it’s the place where you only begin.

The league’s FIP—measuring that for which pitchers alone are responsible (you can call it their ERA without their fielders’ performances factored in) remained practically the same, unless you think a mere nine-point rise is equivalent to scaling the Empire State Building.

AL pitchers also averaged a lousy single point more walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) in ’61 than in ’60. They struck out practically the same average per nine innings and walked almost exactly the same per nine. If that’s drastically “diluted” pitching, I’m a dead bolt.

If anything, Maris had a tougher time hitting 61 in ’61 than the Sacred Babe had in 1927. I’ve noted it before but it’s worth nothing again here: The advent of relief pitching above and beyond being the final repose of pitchers who couldn’t cut it as starters had a big say in it.

Ruth in ’27 faced 67 pitchers all season long, while Maris in ’61 faced 101. Ruth got to face pitchers a third time around in games 35 percent of the time in ’27; Maris enjoyed that privilege only 30 percent. He faced more fresh arms in games than Ruth did.

Did I mention again, too, that this year Aaron Judge faced 232 pitchers by the end of the doubleheader during which he hit his 55th home run of the year? That he faced pitchers a third time around in only seventeen percent of his games as of the end of that twin bill?

The myth of diluted AL pitching in 1961 isn’t quite as grave as the truly unconscionable myth of The Asterisk, of course. But it has in common with that disgrace that it never truly existed in the first place.

You’re welcome, Dan.

Just . . . no*

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge has an embrace with his mother, Patty, after the game during which he hit his 61st home run of the season. (Mom now has the ball her son launched.) And there’s nothing wrong with calling him tied as just the American League’s single-season home run record holder now, either.

I had better things to ponder approaching this weekend. Things such as the showdown between the National League East-leading Mets and the second-place, defending World Series champion Braves entering the weekend a game behind the Mets.

Things such as the Triple-A championship game being played in Las Vegas Ballpark Sunday starting at 4 P.M. Pacific time, which I plan to watch in person from a choice field-level seat several rows up behind home plate.

But no. I had to bump into yet another analysis of Aaron Judge meeting Roger Maris as the American League’s single-season home run champion. That wouldn’t be a terrible collision by itself if not for the fact of the Associated Press writer offering it, David Brandt, joined Roger Maris, Jr. wading into waters that never really existed in the first place.

Maris, Jr., intends to be there when Judge passes his father before the regular season expires. He inserted the ginger into the tails in the first place when he opined that Judge should be branded, hallowed, and hosannaed as the actual, no-questions-asked, all-time, across-the-board single-season home run champion when he hits 62 or more.

A few sentences after citing that, Brandt saw and raised, sort of, after nodding toward the debate over whether National League bombardiers Mark McGwire (who broke Maris’s Show record in that memorable 1998 chase), Sammy Sosa (who settled for three 60+ home run seasons including ’98 yet didn’t win home run championships in those years), and Barry Bonds (whose 73 in ’01 yanked McGwire to one side) remain tainted because of their actual/alleged ties to actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances.

“For its part, MLB doesn’t appear eager to embrace the use of asterisks,” Brandt writes. “Neither does the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.” Uh-oh.

MLB has been down that road before. Maris’ record had an asterisk attached to it for 30 years because he played a 162-game schedule instead of 154 like Babe Ruth did when he hit 60. It remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by former commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record-holder.

Maris’s record had nothing of the sort. Once and for all. It had controversy. It had a country arguing passionately over whether the plainspoken, media-shy Dakotan “deserved” to even think about chasing ruthsrecord (once again, that’s the way they said it then) when his matinee-idol Hall of Fame teammate Mickey Mantle was the “rightful” aspirant if anybody was.

But it had an asterisk only in the public imagination, stoked by a baseball commissioner laden with a fat conflict of interest and a sportswriter about whom “instigator” is one of the more polite epithets attached to his name and memory.

Ford Frick, remember, was once a Ruth ghostwriter. He also loved to engage dinner crowds with stories about how he’d been at Ruth’s bedside the day before Ruth finally lost his battle with throat cancer. Frick would sooner have been caught selling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Empire than abiding anyone, no matter whom, pushing the Sacred Babe to one side in the records.

New York Daily News writer Dick Young was only too willing to abet Frick when he called a press conference midway through that 1961 season to expose himself as feeling just that. Together the compromised commissioner and the irascible columnist made poisoned applesauce of a singular achievement.

With the American League’s first expansion and a schedule change from 154 to 162 games, Frick cringed at the thought that somebody, Yankee or otherwise, would knock Ruth’s hallowed 60-bomb season in 1927 out of the record books at once. As recounted by Allen Barra in his 2002 book Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Century, Frick proclaimed:

Any player who has hit more than 60 home runs during his club’s first 154 games would be recognized as having established a new record. However, if the player does not hit more than 60 until after this club has played 154 games, there would have to be some distinctive mark on the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.

At which point Young piped up and all but hollered, “Maybe you should use an asterisk on the new record. Everybody does that when there’s a difference of opinion.”

Revisiting the controversy in the Village Voice in 2011, after another Daily News writer (Phil Pepe) published a book reviewing the 1961 home run chase, Barra told it as it actually was: Frick did nothing more than put on a show on behalf of his old benefactor. “Frick had no power whatsoever to make a ruling on the subject,” Barra began.

To put it simply, he was grandstanding. What escaped most baseball writers present at Frick’s press conference, and what continues to escape the sports media today, is that major league baseball had no “official” record book and didn’t have one until Total Baseball got the job in the late 1990s. So, in essence, Frick was trying to pressure publishers over whom he had no authority to print his version of the Maris/Ruth home run chase.

Over a decade later, Frick published his memoir, Games, Asterisks, and People. (The front jacket featured a photograph of Frick side by side with Ruth.) The title to one side, Frick himself declared the asterisk on Maris’s record didn’t really exist, Dick Young notwithstanding: “No asterisk has appeared in the official record in connection for that accomplishment . . . ,” Frick wrote in that book. “[Maris’s] record was set in a 162-game season. The Ruth record of 60 home runs was set in 1927 in a 154-game season.” 

Around the time Total Baseball finally got the official record book designation, another commissioner, Fay Vincent, appointed a Committee on Statistical Accuracy. They voted to purge any asterisk from Maris’s record, never mind that no asterisk existed lawfully in the first place. Not for the first time and hardly for the last, baseball’s government sold the nation a bill of goods about as valid as a 27-cent piece.

“Thus,” Barra observed, “a commissioner of baseball voiced his support for removing an asterisk that a previous commissioner denied every having put there in the first place. Probably nothing did more to enhance the myth of the existence of the asterisk as Vincent’s ‘removal’ of it.”

Along came Maris’s son, after his father was met by Judge Wednesday night, to plead for something about as close to a bona-fide asterisk as possible:

[Judge]’s clean, he’s a Yankee, he plays the game the right way and I think it gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered for hitting 62 home runs and not just a guy who did it in the American League. He should be revered for being the actual single-season home-run champ. That’s really who he is if he hits 62. I think that’s what needs to happen. I think (the MLB) needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something.

Well, Judge is “clean”; major league players face mandatory drug testing and Judge hasn’t flunked once. But does it really matter that Judge is a Yankee? Since when was the single-season home run record ruled to be exclusive Yankee property? Would Judge be any less legitimate tying Maris if he’d been a Met? A Brave? A Cardinal? A Guardian? A Dodger? An Astro?

Then a Cardinal, McGwire embraced the Maris family publicly when it looked as though he had a shot at meeting and passing Maris in 1998. (Maris, Sr. finished his major league career with two seasons as a Cardinal.) They returned the embrace just as publicly. It was one of the signature embraces in the year once thought to have been the year that saved baseball, after the lingering clouds of the 1994 owners-provoked players’ strike.

If you saw Billy Crystal’s film 61*, you couldn’t forget the voice of Bob Sheppard, the longtime Yankee Stadium announcer, over a fading image of Barry Pepper as Maris hitting the money shot at film’s end, by referencing the Vincent committee and finishing with, “Roger Maris died six years earlier . . . never knowing . . . that the record . . . belonged . . . to him.”

Crystal and his staffers must not have read Edward Kiersh’s Where Have You Gone, Vince DiMaggio, a 1983 catch-up with a host of former players—including Maris. “I know I have the record,” Maris told Kiersh, “and that’s what counts.” Unconscionably, he just wasn’t allowed to enjoy having achieved it in the first place. From the best of intentions Crystal perpetuated Frick’s and Young’s asterisk fraud.

But only one man could have pushed Ruth to one side in the single-season record book. (It took that man five fewer plate appearances and 34 more pitchers faced on the year to do it.) Only one man going from there could push Maris to one side. Tainted or no, McGwire was the one. Only one man going from there could push McGwire to one side. Tainted or no, Bonds was the one.

You might wish to remind yourself, too—aside from baseball taking no formal action against actual/alleged PEDs until after the Mitchell Report and that parade before what George F. Will called the House Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids—that, if the only thing you needed to hit baseballs over fences was a chemical cocktail, any behemoth in the NFL, the WWF, the alphabet boxing councils, or on the bodybuilding circuit could have broken Maris’s record.

When McGwire eventually faced that House committee (don’t kid yourself that they cared more for the health of the game than for making suspect players do a perp walk to public humiliation), he was blocked by his legal team from owning up. (“I’m not here to discuss the past,” he said to the panel infamously.)

When he returned to baseball as a Cardinals batting coach in 2010, McGwire owned up in full: he said publicly he dipped into the PED waters in a bid to continue playing through frequent injuries, not to enhance what he could do already. However late, his confession was true enough. He could hit a ball of weeds 450 feet whether as a 1987 Rookie of the Year or an injury-wrecked hulk (he doesn’t dismiss that PEDs also instigated a few final injuries) in what proved his 2001 farewell season.

McGwire even apologised to Maris’s widow, Patricia, after his public admission. “My mom was very touched by his call,” said another Maris son, Richard. “She felt sorry for Mark—that he’s going through this. She conveyed that we all make mistakes and move on from there.” Richard’s brother says, retroactively, “Not so fast, Mom.”

Maris, Jr. wants baseball to do something about that post haste. Preferably the split second it appears Judge’s 62nd home run will reach the seats, if not the Sea of Tranquility. You understand his position, too, but good luck with that.

Despise the Sosas and Bondses all you wish. (McGwire accepts that he’ll never reach the Hall of Fame, but his public admission whenever it came bought a lot of good will, regardless of who denies it.) But you can’t just erase the statistics arbitrarily. Any more than Elmer Fudd Frick and Dick Young could impose an asterisk the commissioner himself had no real power to impose.

Pace Brandt, calling Judge the American League’s single-season home run co-champion with Roger Maris isn’t just a euphemism for calling them the “real” single-season home run champions. Judge won’t get beyond the AL record unless he can find a way to send thirteen more baseballs out of the ballparks’ ZIP codes over his next and final eight regular-season games. Settling for being the AL’s single-season bomb king is far from the worst fate he can face.

Well-understood Judge meets misunderstood Maris

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge hitting his 61st home run of the season, tying Roger Maris’s league record and keeping it in the Yankee family.

Reaching a milestone is both tough enough and impressive enough in its own right. When your reaching it busts a tie and puts your team ahead to stay, as it turns out, the satisfaction multiplies exponentially.

Roger Maris blasted his 61st home run of 1961 on the season’s final day, cracking a scoreless tie and proving to be the game’s only run. Aaron Judge met his tortured Yankee forebear Wednesday night, cracking a three-all tie and pushing his American League East champion Yankees past the Blue Jays to stay.

Maris drove a one-out Tracy Stallard fastball into the right field seats and Babe Ruth to one side before a Yankee Stadium audience a little over a third of the old ballpark’s capacity. Judge checked in with Aaron Hicks aboard on a leadoff single, caught hold of Blue Jays reliever Tim Mayza’s hanging full count sinker, and drove it off the edge of the stands and into the Rogers Centre left field bullpen.

Thanks in large part to a capricious, conflict-of-interest commissioner’s foolish edicts, a hostile press, and his own unadorned personality, Maris endured a season in hell at home and on the road from fans hell bent on seeing anyone but the plain Dakotan take the Sacred Babe’s place in the hallowed single-season homer record book.

Judge has known the opposite all season long. At home, he’s been a Yankee matinee idol since he set the since-broken record for home runs in a season by a rookie. On the road, he’s a respected and even well-liked opponent. Even fans jaded by the bazillionaires playing the game don’t quake when pondering not whether but how much of a payday Judge will receive during his first free agency in the off-season to come.

In Toronto, Judge may be more than all that. He may be the one Yankee above all that even Blue Jays fans actually root for. For thanks he has only to remember an early May game and its day-after aftermath.

That was the day Blue Jays fan Mike Lanzillotta got hold of a home run Judge drove into the Rogers Centre upper deck . . . and handed the ball to nine-year-old Derek Rodriguez, wearing a T-shirt done into a Yankee jersey with Judge’s name and number 99 on the back, whom Lanzillotta knew prayed to get a ball hit by Judge.

The moment was caught on video and went viral at once, and it got to Judge’s attention after the game. The Leaning Tower of 161st Street saw it and arranged to meet the boy, his family, and the beneficient fan before the next day’s game.

When Judge hit the line running after hitting Number 61, it ended a streak of 34 plate appearances without hitting one out since he matched Ruth’s 60 of 1927. Rogers Centre bathed him in a loud ovation. Rising from their seats behind the Yankee dugout, Judge’s mother shared an embrace with Roger Maris, Jr. The Yankees swarmed him in hugs. The Blue Jays’ bullpen coach, Matt Buschmann, retrieved the landmark ball and made sure the Yankees got hold of it.

Judge even got a present from home plate umpire Brian O’Nora after the game. O’Nora congratulated Judge outside the Yankee dugout and handed him the game’s official lineup card.

“It’s an incredible honor, getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, one of baseball’s greats, words can’t describe it,” Judge said postgame. So, perhaps naturally, he tried to make words do just that.

“That’s one thing so special about the Yankees organization,” he continued, “is all the guys that came before us and kind of paved the way and played the game the right way, did things the right way, did a lot of great things in this game and getting a chance to be mentioned with those guys now is, I can’t even describe it, it’s an incredible honor, that’s for sure.”

Roger Maris

Roger Maris, hitting the home run it often seemed nobody wanted him to hit, 1 October 1961.

He also made bloody well certain to give props directly to Maris, who died of lymphoma at 51 in 1985. “Getting a chance to tie Roger Maris, you dream about that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s unreal.” So is the point that Judge still has eight games left to break the tie with Maris, never mind put a little more distance between them.

Maris, Jr. intends to be there when Judge passes his father. “I don’t think it’s going to take very long,” he told reporters. “I think he’s loose. I think the party last night, the celebration, loosened him up . . . You can tell that he’s back, and he’s ready to go now.” If only things were that simple for his father.

This is now: Nobody has thundered against Judge even thinking about equaling, never mind passing, either Ruth or Maris, Sr. That was then: The elder Maris was never allowed to enjoy even the simple fact of his feat, never mind its magnitude. “Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing,” he said at the All-Star Game in 1980. “Exactly nothing.”

“Heaven protect us from achieving a greatness that the world decides we do not deserve,” wrote Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post upon Maris’s too-early death. “Mortal men can be crushed by immortal deeds. Wasn’t that the moral of Roger Maris’s career?”

A compact, wiry six feet tall, Maris was unprepared and unwilling to make himself a star as the true media age began. Judge, a 6’7” galoot with a still-boyish, snaggle-tooth grin, who looks at times as if he could get from first to second in two strides on a home run circuit, accommodates the public and the media without letting either control or demean him.

What Judge has in common with Maris, aside from a place in the record book he still might claim as his own, is an easy manner with children. Father of four Maris came to quit reading his fan mail unless he was sure it came from kids. As Derek Rodriguez got to prove, Judge savours encounters with kids when they come.

“Maris,” Boswell continued, “was in all ways pronounced deficient. With his flattop haircut, he looked more Hessian than handsome. At twenty-six, the introverted, proud young man from Fargo, North Dakota, did not have a fraction of the charm, sophistication, or patience to deal with becoming one of the most famous and controversial figures in America.

“It might help our sleep to believe Maris was a reclusive oddball figure, uniquely ill-suited to fame. For years he was portrayed as an antisocial grouch. With time, a contrary profile emerged. Now, as eulogies roll in, he’s painted as a family man, a loyal friend, a modest down-to-earth guy proud of his unselfishness as an all-around ballplayer.”

That family man, loyal friend, and modest down-to-earth guy must have savoured and applauded Wednesday night’s doing from his repose in the Elysian Fields. Even if he also expressed just a flickering wish that he could have known even a fragment of the respect, if not adulation, that Judge receives. You can’t blame Maris for either.

The Sixty Special

Aaron Judge

“Slide over, Babe, you’ve got some company!” So hollered announcer John Sterling as Aaron Judge hit number 60 Tuesday night.

If nothing else, it might have been the only time a solo home run that started a ninth-inning comeback win could possibly upstage the grand slam that finished it. That’s what happens when your teammate’s chase of baseball history precedes you.

On any other night, Yankee designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton’s ultimate grand slam, off Pirates reliever Wil Crowe, would have put a vise grip on the headlines. Even on a night the crosstown Mets came from behind against the Brewers in Milwaukee to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on a Francisco Lindor grand slam in the seventh.

Stanton’s launch suffers a fate almost worse than that suffered by Crowe leading the inning off, when he fed Aaron Judge a 3-1 sinker that didn’t quite sink and was enough to send three-quarters of the way up the left field bleachers. “Slide over, Babe, you’ve got some company!” Yankee announcer John Sterling hollered as Judge rounded second.

Cadillac once called a variant of its top-of-the-top-of-the-line Fleetwood model the Sixty Special. The marque’s Fleetwood line is long gone, of course. But what Judge did Tuesday night made it resemble a Trabant.

Not just because the Yankees went from there to win without the Pirates recording a single out. Not just because Anthony Rizzo followed Judge by reaching for a down and away changeup and doubling to center. Not just because Gleyber Torres walked on five pitches to follow. Not just because Josh Donaldson singled to right to load the pads. And, not just because Stanton turned on a 2-2 changeup and drilled it to roughly the same real estate as Judge’s milestone, if not quite as far back.

From the moment it appeared Judge really would chase the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris for the American League’s single-season home run championship at minimum, the old 154-vs.-162 game shibboleth instigated by then-commissioner Ford Frick’s capricious conflict of interest (he was, of course, a Ruth ghostwriter once upon a time) was revived a little too often by the idiot brigades of today’s social media swamp.

With Maris’s sons Roger, Jr. and Kevin among the Yankee Stadium crowd, Judge connected to finish a night on which it looked as though he might go hitless. He’d grounded out twice, struck out once, and walked once, before he launched the milestone that began the overthrow of an unlikely four-run Pirate lead. He did it in the Yankees’ 147th game, seven sooner than Ruth in 1927 and twelve sooner than Maris in 1961.

His chances of going past Ruth and Maris in the Yankees’ Sixty Special Club are overwhelming. He may or may not get to the Seventy Society populated by two men, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. But would you really bet heavily against a man who’s hit more into the ether since the All-Star break than any individual on four known teams (the Athletics, the Pirates, the Giants, the Nationals) has hit all season?

Now that Judge has met and stands on the threshold of passing Ruth, and is likely to meet and pass Maris posthaste from there, Judge may also have wrapped up the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. May.

Shohei Ohtani remains in the conversation, and the Angels’ two-way unicorn won’t go gently into the proverbial good gray night no matter how far out of contention the badly misadministered Angels are. It might not be out of bounds to ponder whether it ends up with Judge and Ohtani sharing the award. May.

It isn’t always the rule that a league MVP should play on a postseason contender. It isn’t always the rule that he shouldn’t, either. But pursuing history has its call upon MVP voters, too. Ohtani’s already made his history, with his Rookie of the Year 2018 and his MVP 2021; anything else he does merely augments it, unless he becomes crazy enough to bust a single-season home run record while winning a Cy Young Award.

Judge is doing his level best not to think about things such as that, or about things such as the ginormous free agency payday into which he’s swinging himself when the Yankee season finally ends, whenever that may be. It’s about as simple as having to face far more and far different pitching with near-guaranteed freshness every day than Ruth and Maris had to face in the conditions of their time.

“I don’t think about the numbers,” Judge told reporters postgame. “We talk about Ruth and Maris and Mantle and all these Yankee greats, you never imagine as a kid getting mentioned with them. It’s an incredible honor and something I don’t take lightly at all. But we’re not done. We’ve still got a couple of games left in this season, and hopefully more wins come with it.”

His Yankee teammates are another proposition. “Having a front seat from the on-deck circle for most of this,” says Rizzo, “has been amazing.

“He hit 60 tonight and it’s like nothing happened,” Stanton said. “He’s got more work to do, and that’s the mindset. This is just fun to be a part of.”

“The craziest thing,” said pitcher Gerrit Cole, “is that he’s gonna hit so many more. If we play baseball another six weeks, through the postseason, he’s gonna hit like 12, 13 more home runs. He’s just getting started.”

“I want him to hit a home run in every at-bat,” said catcher Kyle Higashioka, “and I think that’s the same sentiment amongst everybody else in this clubhouse, too. As good as he’s playing on the field, he’s the best teammate you could ever imagine. So there’s nobody in here who doesn’t wish for the absolute best for him.”

Judge had to be all but forced out of the dugout for a quick curtain call that amounted to nothing much more than a small wave. He tried to wave it off as nothing much and somewhat out of proportion. “I really didn’t want to do it,” he said. “Especially, we’re losing. It’s a solo shot.”

He had to know he wasn’t going to get away with that. With or without the overthrow he ignited. “I’m trying to enjoy it all, soak it all in,” he said, “but I know I still have a job to do out on the field every single day and I just have to keep my head down, keep preparing and stay mentally focused.”

Maybe forget 60. Or 61. Maybe start thinking about a Seventy Special. Even lifelong, hard credentialed, card-carrying Yankee haters are enjoying this. Lifelong, hard credentialed, card-carrying Yankee fans, of course, may petition to have the stadium’s Judge’s Chambers renamed the Supreme Court.