There’s a lot of excitement about Aaron Judge’s home runs
Saturday afternoon, Aaron Judge went homerless, leaving his record at 60 homers, which ties with the greatest and most important player in baseball history, Babe Ruth. Judge still needs two jolts to surpass Roger Maris and take sole leadership of the most home runs in a season in both New York Yankee and American League history. However, while 62 homers are impressive, they still significantly trail Barry Bonds’ 73 homers in 2001. Even if Judge reaches 62 sometime in the next 11 games, he’d still be only seventh on the single-season list trailing Sammy Sosa (63 in 1999, 64 in 2001, and 66-1998) and Mark McGwire (65 in 1999 and 70 in 1998).
Prominent New York media outlets are excited about this story (e.g., Forbes and the New York Times), something that should give fans pause. It’s possible that baseball, using a compliant media, is pushing hard for this “new” record to cleanse the stains from the “Steroid Era,” a time when the league, if it didn’t conspire, nevertheless aggressively ignored.
Thus, Bud Selig, the current Commission of Baseball, insisted he’d never heard of steroids during the drug’s heyday in baseball:
During a news conference at the 2005 All-Star Game in Detroit, Selig tells reporters he was unaware of rumors of steroid use in baseball until 1998, when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run mark. “I never even heard about it,” Selig says. “I ran a team and nobody was closer to their players and I never heard any comment from them. It wasn’t until 1998 or ‘99 that I heard the discussion.”
Yet baseball outlawed steroids in 1991....
In 1996 and 1997, Mark McGwire admitted to steroid use when he began his assault on Roger Maris’s Major League record of 61 runs in 1961 by slugging 52 and 58 homers, respectively.
“I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989-1990 offseason and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again,” McGwire said in his statement. “I used them on occasion throughout the ‘90s, including during the 1998 season.”
Bonds, the home run king who surpassed Hank Aaron, also admitted to unwittingly using steroids:
Barry Bonds admits using steroids during his baseball career, his lawyer told a US jury. The catch is that Bonds’s personal trainer misled him into believing he was taking flax seed oil and arthritis cream.
“I know that doesn’t make a great story,” Allen Ruby said during his opening statement at the home run leader’s perjury trial in a San Francisco courtroom. “But that’s what happened.”
Sammy Sosa, meanwhile, maintains that he never failed a drug test.
Sosa’s answer — that he never failed a test for PEDs — echoes responses he’s given in the recent past. In a 2018 interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp, Sosa said he “never had a failed test in the country” and “never missed any test at the major league level.”
…The New York Times reported in 2009 that Sosa did test positive for a performance-enhancing drug in a 2003 conducted by the MLB that allowed players to remain anonymous.
In reality, drugs have always been a part of baseball, whether it was steroids or “greenies” amphetamines. Even Aaron, who surpassed the Babe only to be bested by Bonds, admitted he used greenies once:
You could argue that Hank Aaron is the greatest ballplayer of all time. It’s more than his achievements. Aaron has a natural grace that made him bigger than the game.
He once admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.
It was a throwaway line in his autobiography. During the 1968 season, Aaron was in the midst of a long slump. So when a teammate offered him a “greenie” – amphetamines – he accepted it.
“When that thing took hold, I thought I was having a heart attack,” Aaron wrote. “It was a stupid thing to do.”
Still, the “Steroid Era,” like the Black Sox Scandal, has been a black mark on America’s Pastime.
When MLB and the media pretend that Judge doing something extraordinary, are they trying to whitewash steroids right out of the game? That is, baseball gaslighting its fans and faithful by pushing a “new record”?
Even during Judge’s at-bats, announcers seem to be doing their darndest to avoid saying “steroids” in connection with McGwire, Bonds, or Sosa.
If so, it’s unfair to Judge himself. He could become the first Yankee Triple Crown Winner (HR, Runs Batted In, and Batting Average) since Mickey Mantle in 1956 and only the fourth since then. Arguably, he’s the “face of the franchise” and the favorite player of most Bronx locals, despite being in the walk year of his contract. He’s a “boy scout” in an age when many players embarrass their team, sport, and themselves. But the home run push is only a league record that’s not even close to the major league record.
Babe Ruth saved baseball after the World Series betting scandal of 1919. Perhaps Judge can do the same, and then we can focus again on his overall accomplishments. Still, the mark he makes this season will be the equivalent of scaling the seventh largest mountain in the world while inappropriately getting “Everest” accolades. How many people will really be fooled?
Image by Will O’Toole.