Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor
Sept. 29, 2022
In a time when baseball struggles to balance its rich tradition with modernity and evolution, this fall’s home run chases are doing that perfectly. Both Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals) and Aaron Judge (New York Yankees) spent the summer chasing down home run milestones that haven’t been touched in decades.
For Pujols, who will retire at the end of the season, he successfully found his way to 700 career long balls, achieving the feat at historic Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. That 700 mark is a feat that only Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds reached before him.
Judge is in the midst of a historic season, having currently hit 61 home runs. That ties him with Roger Marris for the American League single-season record. That’s a number that is also considered to be the record in either league, American or National, for a player not on steroids (Bonds hit 73 in 2001, but was on steroids).
As the regular season winds down and the postseason approaches, there is renewed attention to September (and, maybe, October) baseball as these players look to chase down history.
With Judge closing in on No. 62, ESPN cuts away from its original programming to air the opportunity live. Visitors to the Yankees website during a game are greeted by a notification alerting them when Judge is scheduled to hit.
St. Louis’ road games saw crowds swarmed with traveling fans looking to witness magic on Pujols’ farewell tour. When he hit No. 700 against the Dodgers, rival fans stood to applaud.
Any time either one of them comes to bat, fans in attendance rise to their feet and, to your grandfather’s dismay, pull out a cell phone to record the moment.
The allure of baseball’s tradition is instilled into many of our childhoods. For me, the golden era of the sport is the mid-20th century. Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Connie Mack managing the Athletics in a business suit and the domination of Ruth and Gehrig’s Yankees.
That was a magical time, as baseball grew to be the first sport that captivated the country. Now, the sport struggles to match that intoxicating image, as television ratings and attendance shrink. These chases are shooting adrenaline into what has become mundane.
Thanks to its century-long tradition, records and milestones in baseball mean more than any other sport. Cal Ripken Jr.’s “Iron Man” streak (he played in a record 2,632 consecutive games), Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and the 3,000-hit club all captivate fans of a sport that immortalizes its players by the numbers they put up.
The sport doesn’t have flashy social personalities like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. or Lebron James. Legacies have always been cemented with milestones, records and feats achieved on the field.
Forbes reports that last week’s game between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox was the most watched MLB game all season, and was the most-watched non-Subway Series (Yankees vs. New York Mets) game in New York City since 2018.
These races remind fans of what can make baseball beautiful. Baseball’s stars, both young and old, are regularly making history.
For decades, we have looked back at the golden age of baseball, or at Roger Maris’ 61-homer season in 1961, wishing that such a magical feeling would return to the diamond.
Judge’s season forces us to look forward, in eager anticipation of the next legend being instilled with a “62” in the record book. A new home-run king gives the sour crowd of baseball fans one less reason to look at the past.
Pujols reminds us of the true greatness that has been under our noses for the last 20-plus years, and to appreciate the youth who enter the game. After all, they may be replicating his success one day.
For now, enjoy the heart-racing anticipation when you see that baseball’s rich history is about to grow.