It certainly felt like it was only a matter of time.
On Monday, Aaron Judge, the 2 m (6 foot 7 inch) power hitter for the New York Yankees, arrived in Toronto for a three-game series with the Blue Jays. He needed just one home run to tie Roger Maris' A.L. record for most homers in a single season: 61.
Over the series, the Jays' pitchers were extra careful not to throw anything that the towering Judge could hit long. This resulted in an incredible seven walks over the three games (a walk is when a hitter receives four 'balls', pitches that are thrown outside the strike zone and that are difficult to hit).
But finally, in the seventh inning of the third game, Jays pitcher Tim Mayza made a mistake, leaving a pitch in a perfect spot for Judge to smack.
He made no mistake.
61 home runs.
It's an amazing achievement for Judge for a bunch of reasons. Let's look at what made last night's game at the Rogers Centre far bigger than just any old night at the ballpark.
Baseball is famous for its obsession with numbers and statistics for every possible situation.
Wow! He just set a record for the most strikes thrown by a left-handed pitcher born in an even-numbered year in a game played on a Tuesday the day after a rain delay!
But every once in a while, the numbers really do tell a wild story. Judge breaking Maris' record is one of those.
Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in a single season back in, wait for it, 1961. And how long did his record stand? 61 years, of course. (1961 + 61 = 2022.)
How weird is that?
Hungry for a catch
Getting the chance to tie a 61-year-old record made Judge a big story. Every time he stepped up to the plate, it was huge news across the baseball world. And it was also a chance for someone to make a lot of money...
Baseball fans love to collect items from games, especially the balls. Any ball that is hit into the stands is something that fans are allowed to keep. It is theirs. And balls from big moments in baseball history are worth a lot of money.
The estimated worth of Judge's 61st home run ball was set at about $250,000. This meant that all week, the outfield stands at the Rogers Centre were full of fans hoping to be the one to catch a home run ball worth a quarter of a million bucks!
So which fan caught last night's ball? The answer is no one. The ball wasn't hit that far—it barely scraped the front of the bleachers and landed in the Blue Jays' bullpen below. (This is where pitchers warm up. The Jays pitching staff kept the ball until a member of the Yankees came to give the ball to Judge himself.)
But one fan came super close to catching it. So close, that the ball brushed his glove! His name? Frankie Lasagna. Could there possibly be a better name than that? Mr. Lasagna happens to own an Italian restaurant in Toronto, so it is possible that his brush with greatness might at least give his business a boost (we think he should name a new dish after his near-miss pronto!).
The greatest of all time?
Aaron Judge has seven more games to reach 62 home runs (or higher) and set the record all for himself. Will that make him baseball's new home run king?
Roger Maris held the record for most homers in the American League, which is one of the two leagues in Major League Baseball. (The World Series is when the best team in each league face-off for the championship.) But in the National League, there are three players ahead of Maris and Judge:
- Barry Bonds: 73 homers in 2001
- Mark McGwire: 70, 1998
- Sammy Sosa: 66, 1998
So Judge is the best in the A.L., but not all of baseball, right?
This is the subject of huge debate right now. In 2006, an investigation found that during the 1990s and early 2000s, many baseball players were using what are known as performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs. These gave the players extra strength, almost like superpowers. And that strength made hitting home runs that much easier for players like Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa.
This connection to PEDs has kept these and other players out of the Baseball Hall of Fame because many people view their achievements as unfairly gained. Since the 2006 investigation, MLB has taken a strict, no-nonsense approach to any player found using a PED. In fact, on August 12, San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. was banned 80 games (half a season) for a positive test.
Judge has never tested positive for any banned substance. So if he hits a 62nd homer, should be seen as the greatest ever?
It's just another set of numbers for true fans to discuss for years to come. Who are we to Judge?
Nice guy finishing first
We just want to end by saying that whether or not you feel that Aaron Judge is or is not the greatest home run hitter ever, there's one thing that's not up for debate.
He's a lovely guy and his home runs make people feel good.
At an earlier game between the Yankees and the Blue Jays this May, Judge hit his ninth homer of the year off Jays ace Alek Manoah. In the stands, a Jays fan got the ball ... then immediately turned and gave it to a young Aaron Judge fan sitting in the row behind him.
Here's how it played out.
Awww! Rival fans sharing a moment. We're not crying, you're crying!
But wait, it got better. The next day, with the Yankees still in town for another game, Aaron Judge had heard the news. So he invited both the young Yankees fan and the Jays fan to meet him. And here's how that went!
We told you, we're not crying!!
Anyway, we like Aaron Judge. Congrats and go get number 62!