After an amazing season, Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the year on Tuesday, Oct. 4 against the Texas Rangers, passing Roger Maris’ 61 to take the American League single-season home run record. But his 62 is seventh all-time in Major League Baseball history while the names of the three players ahead of him haunt baseball: Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, icons of the steroid era.
Now a question is being asked within baseball: which is the real home run record, Judge’s clean 62 or Bonds’ tainted 73?
Bonds is one of, if not the greatest hitter in baseball history: his 762 career home runs leads the MLB record; he is fourth in wins above replacement all-time; his 7 MVPs is the most all-time; he had 14 All-Star appearances,12 Silver Slugger awards and, most importantly, he hit 73 home runs in a single season — the most in MLB history.
What was his secret? Steroids and human growth hormones. Bonds was well on his way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame before he started using performance enhancing drugs in 1998, but in an era where a lot of the upper echelon of talent in the league was also doping, Bonds was peer pressured and felt he needed the drugs to compete.
Bonds is a ghost of baseball’s and our own creation. Arguments, articles and discussions have happened every year since his retirement about the validity of his achievements. While a lot of great storylines have occurred this season, such as Albert Pujols’ successful chase for 700 career home runs and Shoei Ohtani again displaying an incredible ability to hit and pitch the ball, Judge's home run chase is the headliner.
I wasn’t born yet when Bonds hit his 73 in 2001. I was five years old when the Mitchell Report listed him in the names of performance enhancing drug users. To me and many other baseball fans of my generation, he has always been a cheater; I did not go through the betrayal or the drama.
Something that is often brought up with the steroid era, though, is how it saved, or at least brought attention back to the MLB. Many fans were hurt and swore off the sport after the 1994 strike that started midseason which resulted in a cancelled postseason and no World Series. It wasn’t until 1998, the unofficial start of the steroid era, where fans were brought back wtih McGwire and Sosa both breaking the home run record at the time.
The massive media attention and renewed fan interest led to a home run craze where many players began using performance enhancing drugs.
While Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and many others have all been left in the dust, many still recognize their contribution to the game. Their accomplishments on the field are not only impressive but put MLB in a situation to flourish. In 1991, steroids made the list of MLB’s banned substances, but it wasn’t until 2003 that they started testing; even then, it wasn’t until 2005 when players began to be suspended for testing positive.
Bud Selig, the MLB commissioner from 1998 to 2015, oversaw the steroid era and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is a contradiction that the players of that era aren’t celebrated while the person who allowed steroids to come into the league — and did little to stop the growth — has reached baseball immortality.
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Judge’s 62 deserves to be universally celebrated by fans. A lot of the joy from this accomplishment has been robbed from him as he’s had to repeatedly answer questions all season about the “real” home run record. In an article published by Sports Illustrated, Judge gave a definitive answer.
“Seventy-three, in my book, no matter what people want to say about what happened in that era of baseball, for me, they went out there and hit 73 homers and 70 homers and that’s for me what the record is,” Judge said.
I disagee with Judge. Performance enhancing drugs used in that era gave an unfair advantage and inflated statistics. Judge should be crowned as the home run king for passing Maris’ record that stood for over 60 years. Bonds never hit over 50 home runs in a season pre-steroid use, and his 73 is a clear outlier.
I am sympathetic to Bonds and others ostracized by the baseball community. In a statement that might seem hypocritical to some, I do think there is a place for Bonds in the Hall of Fame simply because you can’t tell the story of baseball without him. But for his accomplishments, in my mind, I have branded them with an asterisk to maintain the integrity of the game. And I wish MLB would do the same.
Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thomasbulger10