THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2022
Blackistone starts to hit: Who holds the MLB home run record?
In this morning's Washington Post, Kevin Blackistone—he's very bright—gets involved in debating this basically pointless point. Judge-bashing headline included, his column starts like this:
The sanctimonious baseball purists want to elevate Aaron Judge. Don’t let them.
Because of historical denialism, it was reported in some places that New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge on Tuesday broke Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record with his 62nd blast. He didn’t. The record is 73, set by should-be Hall of Fame outfielder Barry Bonds on Oct. 7, 2001. Much of the sports journalism profession should regret the error.
But it is not surprising that the keepers of the sport have not made this clear. They rarely do. Over the years, they’ve selectively disguised dishonesty in baseball under the cloak of folklore and corrected the record only under duress.
Was it really reported, "in some places," that Judge "broke Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record" this week? In support of this claim, Blackistone offers exactly one link—a link to this column by Chelsea Jane, his colleague at the Post.
That's the only column to which Blackistone offered a link. At present, Janes' column starts like this, headline included:
Aaron Judge hits home run No. 62 to pass Roger Maris’s single-season mark
New York Yankees star Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the year against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night, passing Roger Maris for the most in a season by an American League player and punctuating a late stretch of breathtaking drama that only once-in-a-generation pursuits can create.
The home run record has long been sacred, measuring the most uncomplicated feats of baseball strength that even the sport’s unpredictable bounces and unforeseen variables cannot interrupt. Tuesday’s homer gave Judge a complicated, unofficial and uncomfortable title: the most prolific single-season home run hitter who did not play during the game’s steroid era.
Maybe the column said something different when it first appeared. (We see no such indication in the comments to the column.)
That said, Judge did pass Maris' single-season mark this week. He did "pass Maris for the most in a season by an American League player"—and he did hit the most home runs in a season by someone "who did not play during the game’s steroid era."
As her column exists at present, Janes' statements are basically accurate. As almost everyone totally knows, the breakdown in this discussion lies here:
As Blackistone himself seems to acknowledge, Bonds was almost surely taking steroids when he hit 73 homers during the 2001 season. (In 1999 and 2000, the mainstream press corps, also massively jacked on steroids, spent twenty months inventing crazy claims Al Gore was said to have said.)
Very few people doubt the idea that Bonds was using steroids at that point. Today, MLB administers a regular steroid-testing program—and no one seems to think that Judge is involved in steroid use.
Bonds was one of baseball's greatest players before the steroid era began. (He graduated from San Mateo's Serra High a decade before Tom Brady.) That said, he had never hit as many as 50 homers in a season before the year when he suddenly hit 73.
It's a long jump from 42 or 46 up to 73! Would Bonds have hit 73 homers in the absence of steroid use? It seems to be a major stretch to suppose that he would have.
All that said, who holds the MLB record for most home runs in a season? It isn't especially hard to state the basic facts:
Bonds hit the most home runs of any player in any MLB season. Judge hit the most home runs of any player in any season outside the steroid era, when Bonds and several other players suddenly began producing eye-popping home run numbers.
Judge holds the single-season record absent known (or presumed) steroid use. Bonds hold the record overall. It isn't hard to state those facts, but people like to fight.
Anthropologically speaking, we humans love to fight! Instead of simply reporting the facts as pretty much everyone knows them, we may tend to enter an empty, largely stupid debate about which of those home run records is "real."
In our failing modern era, people especially love to fight when issues of "race" are involved. This tendency is fully understandable, if not necessarily productive.
For Blackistone, it seems fairly clear that issues of race are involved as he ruminates about the way various MLB players are regarded, dating back to and including Babe Ruth.
(How many homers would Josh Gibson have hit? We have no idea!)
Blackistone seems to have become so energized that he trashed the work of a colleague who seems to have made accurate statements. This is part of the world created by the brutal racial history built by our benighted ancestors.
Most experts name the late Gene Brabender, a journeyman MLB pitcher, as the greatest anthropologist of the 20th century. In Jim Bouton's iconic book, Ball Four, Brabender offered this account of the way life was lived in his rural midwestern community:
"Where I come from, we just talk for a little while. After that we start to hit."
Future anthropologists have long since agreed—with that stunningly insightful remark, Brabender perfectly captured the essence of our endlessly war-inclined species.
We humans are wired to pick up sides and then, rather quickly, to hit.
Fuller disclosure: What's the real MLB home run record?
Be careful what you ask! Within the realm of academic philosophy, few words have produced larger amounts of conceptual confusion than the tricky little power-packed and yet deceptive word, "real."
Above, we've outlined the basic facts—and those basic facts are all "real." There are no other basic facts.
After that, it's just a matter of which facts you prefer to like.