Last year as a member of the Florida Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs. Now that he’s moved to the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, the dream (and the hope) is that he can punish even more baseballs – which is not a reasonable request, but a fun thing Yankee fans can hope for going into the 2018 season. Hitting a home run is still one of the most exciting and impressive feats in all of sports. Despite the fact of the home run’s arbitrary nature (different pitchers, how far the ball travels doesn’t matter, every field is so different in so many ways from layout to distance from home plate to wall to the height of said wall and so on), we all dig the long ball.
A home run may be a regular occurrence during a baseball season, but the guys who have the chance to put it out of the park every time they come to the plate are special players and the ones who can do it with ferocious regularity are rarer. There are only five major league baseball players to ever hit 60 or more home runs in a single season: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Maris and Babe Ruth . It’s not easy to hit 60 home runs over the course of six months. I get that no one says it is, but it’s such an incredible achievement that I think it’s worth saying. Maris was feeling the pressure to the point where his hair started falling out. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all used performance enhancing drugs. And Ruth? Well, Babe Ruth ate too many hot dogs and drink too much alcohol.
So… Yeah. In case it’s not clear, Babe Ruth was REALLY good at hitting a baseball.
It’s difficult to quantify baseball players against each other, especially when they played during different eras of the game. You’ve got your dead ball era, your live ball era, before and after they lowered the mound by 6 inches, before and after night games and fly across the country, before and after segregation and international players, any time the league expanded, the era of everybody being on speed, of everybody being on steroids, the advent of the personal trainer, the specialization of the bullpen and about a million other things that have changed the game over time.
But of course there is one player who transcends time, and I guess in this case space and even the game itself. You know who I mean, it’s the Babe! George Herman Ruth. This guy could play today and he’d still be a top tier player. Even if he only achieved half of what he did back then in today’s game, he’d still have hit 30 home runs in one year, which is pretty great. There just aren’t a lot of players you can transport to any point in the history of the game and they’d still be a star, and he’s one of the few.
Babe Ruth hit his 60 home runs in 1927. He was so far ahead of his time that he had more home runs on his own than 12 (TWELVE!) teams had clubbed with their entire roster. Nobody matched or beat his record until Maris hit 61 homers in 1961. He beat him by one, and that year, the schedule had been expanded, so Maris played in 8 more games than Ruth had in 1927. Nobody topped Maris’ mark until 1998, when McGwire hit 70 and Sosa hit 66. Bonds then hit 73 in 2001. So if you’re keeping score at home, Ruth held the record for 34 years, Maris held it for 40 years and then three players surpassed them both in the space of three years.
Yeah… that’s not suspicious at all.
Another quick tidbit: Sosa, McGwire and Bonds all played in the National League, so the single season home run record in the American League still belongs to Roger Maris. Because Maris played in eight more games than Ruth, they continued to include Ruth’s record – the idea was to treat them as separate records because of the schedule disparity. Maris died in 1985 and finally in 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent’s Committee on Statistical Accuracy essentially decided that a baseball season is a baseball season and proclaimed support for the “The single record thesis,” meaning there is only one record. I tend to agree given how much the game (and life) has changed between 1927, 1961 and 1998. There’s no way to quantify it, so there’s no reason to try.
And now here we are in 2018. The New York Yankees feature two great power hitters in Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, much like they did with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Will Judge (52 home runs in ’17) and/or Stanton (59 home runs in ’17) reach the promised land this year? Who knows. But it’ll be fun to watch, and yet, it’ll never be like watching Babe Ruth. He set the standards for the game and players are still chasing his records 70 years after his death and 91 years since he set his most famous bench mark. We’ll never see his like again.
And I didn’t even talk about Ruth’s pitching numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re good.