As Aaron Judge continues to mash home runs, a reminder that 60 is still the magical plateau

ST. LOUIS — Aaron Judge didn’t hit a home run in St. Louis this weekend.

Yes, that’s remarkable. The Cardinals didn’t exactly lock Judge up; The mammoth Yankees slugger had five hits, four RBIs — including two base-loaded hits on Sunday — a pair of runs scored and even a stolen base during the three-game streak. Even if he doesn’t do capital D damage, he still deals damage.

But with the way Judge has been smashing baseball lately, any at-bat that doesn’t end in a home run is Yeoman’s opposing pitcher’s work. After the All-Star break, Judge had 10 home runs in New York’s first 13 second-half games, with a .525 percentage on base and a 1.083 slugging percentage in 61 plate appearances.

“I think Aaron Judge is the best player in the world right now,” Matt Carpenter told The Sporting News on Friday. “I’m watching him. For that I get a seat in the front row. I joked he reminded me of the 14 year old who lied on his birth certificate to play in the Little League World Series. He’s in a different league, he’s that good.”

So Judge left St. Louis with the same home run total he arrived with: a Major League 43 home run in 109 team games. That’s still nine ahead of everyone else in the bigs. It’s still at an incredible pace. But with 53 games remaining, Judge’s chances of catching Barry Bonds’ record 73 homers in a season are slim. Right now, despite all his incredible feats of strength this year, he’s “only” at a 64 homer pace.

“You go numb from batting practice, but what he’s doing right now is just amazing,” said Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks, sitting in front of his locker before Friday’s game. “You find yourself just laughing, ‘He did it again.’ All these different situations come up and he takes the call every time. It’s really fun to watch. Hell, I was here before him, so I’ve seen him come in as a freshman so far. It’s fun to watch.”

Players with at least 43 HRs in 109 games
Surname Year HRs in 109 games Done with
Barry Bonds 2001 46 73
Babe Ruth 1921 46 59
Mark McGwire 1998 45 70
Mark McGwire 1999 44 65
Aaron Richter 2022 43
Luis Gonzales 2001 43 57
Babe Ruth 1928 43 54
Mickey coat 1961 43 54

If 73 is highly unlikely, what’s left?

“Just” that: The same chase thugs have mocked for decades, for generations. The hunt for that magical 60 home run mark. Yes, that still counts in this sport.

“I think it’s definitely still a magic number,” Hicks said. “The last person who got close to him was G (Giancarlo Stanton, with the Marlins in 2017). That’s a difficult number to track. Just think of the story behind it, the players who did it.”

Babe Ruth hit 60 homers for the Yankees in 1927, and everyone else tried and failed to match his feat until another Yankee, Roger Maris, landed 61 in 1961. That record held for another 37 years, until both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa passed It was 1998, a summer that felt magical back then. Both players went over 60 again (Sosa twice) and Barry Bonds erased McGwire’s record 70 with his unreal 73 homer campaign in 2001.

Of course we know things now.

Those numbers are still in the record books like they should be, but ask yourself if they feel sacred. Sorry, corrupt numbers are not sacred. In a sport where round plateaus, although random memorials to achievement — the 500 home run club, the 3,000 hit mark, .400 shots in a season, an ERA under 2.00 — are more important than any other sport the 60-homer performance still stands high. And the point here isn’t to rap what Bonds, McGwire and Sosa did, but rather to say that those inflated totals didn’t erase the enduring magic of Ruth and Maris, both of whom hit 60.

And Judge can still get there. He can join Ruth and Maris while remaining separate (in more ways than one) from Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa.

The Yankees have 57 games left and Judge needs 17 home runs to tie Ruth, 18 to tie Maris. That, folks, is very possible. I won’t go so far as to call it likely, but it’s certainly within the realm of definite possibility.

Using Baseball-Reference’s StatHead search, we see that Judge had multiple overlapping streaks of at least 18 home runs in 57 games in 2017 when he hit 52 home runs and finished second in the AL MVP (and won Rookie of the Year). He had multiple overlapping stretches of 18 homers in 57 games in 2018 when he hit 27 homers in 112 games. Also in 2021, he had multiple overlapping stretches of 18 homers in 57 games.

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And 2022? His best is 26 homers in 57 games. Impressive, but here’s what really tells the story of Judge’s incredible season. You can literally pick every 57-game run from Judge’s season (he’s played in 105 of the Yankees’ 109 games), and he’s hit at least 18 homers in that stretch.

Yes. Maybe we’ll bump it up to “probably” that he’ll live to be 60 if he stays healthy.

“It would be really great to see a Yankee beat another Yankee’s number,” Hicks said, smiling. “It would be great to see that.”

And at this point in the season, you’re probably wondering the same thing I’ve been wondering: Why on earth do teams keep pitching to him? His July 28 solo walkoff shot in the ninth game against Kansas City really stands out. He had hit five homers in his last six games, was playing at home, and it was a tie in the ninth inning, so a solo homer cost the Royals the game. And yet he landed a 90 mph fastball on the first throw right over the center of the plate, in the bottom half of the hitting zone.

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Of course he hit the field over the fence. What did the royals expect? Oh, and then he hit two more homers against Kansas City the next night and his fourth of the series on the 30th.

Maybe someday, I don’t know, take him for a walk? I asked Aaron Boone that very question.

“He gets thrown around sometimes and teams are very careful with him,” the Yankees manager said ahead of Friday’s game. “But at some point you have to face the guys, especially as we have a pretty impressive line-up with Rizz (Anthony Rizzo) behind him and DJ (LeMahieu) in front of him. It’s not always as simple as “go ahead and walk with him”. We’ve probably seen this a bit more often lately, teams blatantly brawling around him at times. But he just did a really good job just focusing on having quality shots and not necessarily worrying about a home run, just putting his team on the shots.”

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And that’s exactly what he did in the St. Louis series. The judge hit a 404 foot to dead center — loaded bases — in Sunday’s game, but he hit the foot of the wall and he had to “settle” for a two-RBI double.

If – when – Judge hits that magical 60-homer plateau and joins Yankees legends Ruth and Maris, it’s because he hasn’t settled for anything but size.

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