New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge blasted his 62nd home run of the year Tuesday night in Texas, making him baseball’s greatest single-season long-ball hitter — outside of MLB’s notorious steroid era.
Judge drove an 88 mph slider over the left-field wall, where the ball was caught by a fan who went to the game ready with his glove.
The blast came off Judge’s bat at 100.2 mph and was measured at 391 feet.
Judge said that as he circled the bases, he relived the journey of this season and all the help he’s had along the way.
“I was thinking of my wife, thinking of my family, my teammates, the fans,” Judge told reporters after the game, a 3-2 Rangers win.
“All of that was running, kind of running, through my head, just the constant support I’ve gotten through this whole process.”
The Yankees poured out of their dugout as soon as Judge touched home plate to celebrate his milestone, which broke a tie with Roger Maris, who hit 61 shots in 1961, for the most hit in a single American League season.
Judge had one more at-bat and took his position in right field in the bottom of the second inning. That’s when Yankees manager Aaron Boone removed him from the game, allowing him another curtain call.
The record-breaking homer came in game No. 161 of the season. So Judge would have had only had one more game to hit No. 62, had he not gone deep Tuesday night.
Judge stopped just short of saying the pressure of the home run chase and the fast-moving calendar was getting to him.
“The game started going a little faster,” he said. “I can’t lie — the past couple games I’d look up and it’s the seventh inning. I’m like, dang, I only got one more at-bat. We got to figure this out.”
President Joe Biden congratulated Judge and predicted more greatness for the Yankees outfielder. The 99-62 Yankees enter the playoffs as the American League’s No. 2 seed and will take the wildcard round off.
“History made, more history to make,” Biden said.
But Judge’s achievement may stand as a record only in the hearts and minds of purist baseball fans.
All the record holders ahead of him are National League sluggers who did their damage in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, when it was widely believed some of the best hitters and pitchers used performance-enhancing drugs.
MLB did not suspend players for steroid use until 2005. By that point, Maris’ mark of 61 had been topped six times in just four seasons (1998-2001) by Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire.
But more than a handful of fans will now argue that Judge and previously Maris should stand as baseball’s greatest single-season home run hitters, as their feats came outside the steroid era, which was chronicled in a 2007 report by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
Baseball historian and author Marty Appel said fans could reasonably argue that Judge’s 62-plus home runs this season is the more noteworthy achievement.
“I think a majority of fans would recognize that something done not in the steroid era, as we’re experiencing now with Aaron Judge, would be more legitimate,” said Appel, a former Yankees executive.
“But it’s one of those things left over from the steroid era. We’re left to our own minds to determine what is and what isn’t qualified as a record. It’s really going to be up to each individual [fan] as to what they recognize — which is a shame, because baseball has always been by the book and by the numbers.”