Giancarlo Stanton won’t set the new single-season MLB record for home runs, but that doesn’t mean his season should be forgotten.
Rewriting sports record books in hindsight is an incredibly slippery slope. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire took performance-enhancing drugs that were not expressly banned by Major League Baseball despite the fact that their use without a prescription is illegal in the eyes of the United States government. Roger Maris got to play 162 games. Babe Ruth only played against white ballplayers.
Just like that, we’re back to Ned Williamson with 27 home runs as the all-time leader for bombs in a single season.
For better or worse, Barry Bonds and his 73 dingers from 2001 are the all-time single-season record that all Major League Baseball players must chase until someone else with a freakish command of the strike zone and naturally-gotten superhuman strength comes along. My guess is that we’ll be waiting quite awhile.
Baseball’s record book is quite an interesting document and paints a picture of the myriad ways in which the game has changed so drastically since the Cincinnati Red Stockings formed up in 1869. Some records will never be broken, like Cy Young’s 511 career wins, Hugh Duffy’s .440 batting average from 1894 or Bob Gibson’s modern single-season ERA record of 1.12 set one year before the league decided to lower the mound to its current position. Those untouchable records give baseball fans a chance to look back and think to themselves, “Wow, this great game really has gone through a lot of changes in its long, drawn-out history.”
Baseball is weird, and influenced by externalitites more so than any of the other major American sports. I like it that way, and I would imagine most die-hard fans agree.
To many of the most hard-line baseball purists, if Giancarlo Stanton completes his mission to hit 62 home runs this season, he will assume the mantle as the league’s single-season home run record. I’m sorry, but I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true. Bonds is the record holder no matter how many cc’s of pure, untainted horse tranquilizer and female fertility hormones were coursing through his veins when he knocked number 73 out of the park.
Stanton’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ number is historic for many different reasons. Home runs are all the rage in 2017 with almost every hitter in the league employing an “elevate-and-celebrate” approach at the plate. For God’s sake, Scooter Gennett, a 185-pound second baseman with 35 career homers entering this season, has a four-homer game and is on pace to hit more than 30 in 2017. He could be one of four second basemen with more than 30 dingers when it’s all said and done and game 162 is in the books. The likely AL MVP is a second baseman who has an OPS over .975.
Everyone is hitting for power these days. More players than ever before will top 20 home runs this season, but that has not carried over to the top of the leaderboards. Mark Trumbo led the league with 47 last season. With 54 as of Sept. 11, Stanton is 13 clear of rookie phenom Aaron Judge. No one else has topped 40, and Stanton will likely be the only one to hit more than 50, barring a late-season heater from Judge. We’re looking at a gap between first and second place that has not been seen in many years.
Strikeouts are up nearly 25 percent since the height of the Steroid Era. With PEDs out of the equation, pitchers have resumed dominating the game, as they have in virtually every other era. I will go to my grave believing that hitting a small sphere moving 95 mph in different directions every single time with a thin stick is the most difficult athletic feat known to man. The pitchers throwing the small sphere in 2017 are the best to ever do it. They sustain velocities that were unheard of only a decade ago, let alone in 1930. Their curveballs have more depth, while the transition away from worshiping the complete game has allowed for more max-effort pitches in every inning of the game.
Hitting home runs in 2017 is much harder than the constant speculation regarding the “juiced baseball” would lead you to believe. In spite of all that, Giancarlo Stanton is closing in on a historical mark that has not even been sniffed since Bud Selig and his merry henchmen decided to stop turning a blind eye to rampant steroid abuse all across the league. No one has hit more than Jose Bautista’s 54 in 2010 since testing and punishment were implemented.
As badly as many of us would like to transfer Barry Bonds record to Giancarlo Stanton if he hits 62 this year (overlooking the fact that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa also hit more than 62 home runs and have slightly less steroid stink than Bonds), it’s not happening and shouldn’t happen. Whether Stanton ends the year with 59 or 63 home runs, his season has to be remembered as one of the best in MLB history. He has slugged close to .800 and homered every other game for over a third of the season.
More importantly, Stanton has completely turned around the narrative on his career and future. The $325-million man was starting to look like another in a long line of strikeout-prone, incomplete sluggers that are an integral part of every MLB generation. Now, $325 million almost looks like a bonus, especially considering the obscene sums of money Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout are set to command. Only time will tell whether or not the second half of the 2017 season will serve as the launching pad for Stanton to become the greatest hitter of home runs in MLB history.