By In Stuff

The Curse of the Home Run Record

On September 30, 1927 — in front of an estimated 8,000 fans at Yankee Stadium — Babe Ruth came to the plate with his Yankees and the Washington Senators tied 2-2. Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig — the only one of the top four in that Yankees lineup NOT in the Hall of Fame — tripled, so all Ruth needed to do was crack a little single to give Yankees the lead.

Instead, he pulled a home run to right field over the head of (Hall of Famer) Sam Rice. It was not a particularly impressive home run, certainly not by Ruth standards. “Witnesses of this act in the drama say it was only six inches fair,” wrote W.O. McGeehan. “It was not one of those magnificent home runs banged against the dim horizon, perhaps, but it was a home run nonetheless, and the sixtieth.”

Ruth, as he ran around the bases, took off his cap and waved it to the crowd.

“This was his sixtieth home run,” wrote The Indianapolis News in a particularly prescient commentary, “not only for him, but for all time. Babe Ruth had come back. Nobody can tell about what will happen … but nobody can take away from Babe Ruth the record he has made.”

Nobody can take away from Babe Ruth the record he has made. Here we are, ninety years later, and in so many ways Ruth’s 60 homers of 1927 are still the standard. Four players have hit more than 60 homers in a season, but in one way or another each of them has been wounded by it. Now, Giancarlo Stanton hits home runs at a dizzying pace, and he has a shot at 60 homers, and people talk about him potentially breaking the “real record.”

But you have to wonder: Is the “real record” something that can ever be broken?

* * *

On July 17, 1961, with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hitting home runs at a dizzying pace, baseball commissioner Ford Frick held a press conference. There was a serious issue to discuss. Maris and Mantle both had a chance to break Ruth’s cherished record of 60 home runs. But, there was a complicating factor. See, 1961 was the first season of baseball’s 162-game schedule. Ruth, of course, had set his record in 154 games.

Frick, as has been noted many times through the years, was not the most unbiased of arbiters. He was a lifelong Ruth fan, having written some especially purple prose about Ruth when Frick was a sportswriter. They later became close friends. Frick was there at Ruth’s bedside when the great man died.

“Standard yardsticks might suffice for ordinary mortals,” Frick would later write in his autobiography. “Not for Babe. He was different!”

On that day in July, Frick announced (by the power vested in him as commissioner of baseball) that only someone who hit 61 home runs in the first 154 games would be considered to have truly broken Ruth’s record in n baseball’s official record book. If someone hit their 61st home run during the eight extra games tacked on at the end of the season, well, then there would be TWO records, Ruth’s record for 154 games, and the other guy for 162 games.

“Maybe you should use an asterisk on the new record,” the writer and loudmouth Dick Young said. “Everybody does that when there’s a difference of opinion.”

And that’s how the whole asterisk thing began.

Now, it should be noted: There was no asterisk. There was also official baseball record book then. The commissioner of baseball didn’t have the power to determine how writers and fans and statisticians would view the record. But — and this is the part that gets missed when people look back and mock Frick’s ruling — MOST PEOPLE AGREED WITH HIM. That’s why the whole Maris asterisk myth even happened.

The Sporting News did a poll of baseball writers, and by a vote of more than two-to-one, they sided with Frick. In fact, most of the writers believed Frick didn’t go nearly far enough. They wanted to tear the entire record book in half. They didn’t think Maris should get the record even if he broke it in the first 154 games.

“You can’t compare times for a 100-yard dash to a 100-meter dash because of difference distances,” wrote St. Louis’ influential writer Bob Broeg. “I favor complete separation of records based on 154-game schedules.”

“I believe he or the Playing Rules Committee should rule that separate filings be set up for all baseball records,” The Cincinnati Post’s Tom Swope wrote.

“I favor two sets of records,” Joe Cashman of the Boston Record said.

“All records should be preserved on the 154-game basis,” wrote Dick Young, who believed that the 162-game thing was a farce and that baseball would soon regain its senses and go back to 154 games.

And so on. This was the passionate feeling of the day. “Maris has no right to break Ruth’s record,” Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby howled, and though it was a nasty thing to say (Hornsby could be quite nasty), it was how most people seemed to feel.

Now, there were a few sportswriters who disagreed with Frick and the majority — my favorite being the legendary Larry Merchant, who was a 30-year-old writer for the Philadelphia Daily News then. “It is my opinion that Commissioner Frick is out of order,” Merchant wrote. “He tries to change the tides. He cannot. What is a record? It is a recording of achievement. No amount of doctoring, by asterisks, question marks or exclamation points, will alter the fact that when Ruth’s record of 60 home runs is broken, it is broken.”

As sensible as that sounds now, it was a distinctly minority opinion then. Maris never stood a chance. His final days of chasing the record were unique miserable, n part because of the Frick controversy, in part because Maris shied away from attention, in part because the fans had chosen his teammate and friend Mickey Mantle as the worthy successor to Ruth, not him. Sportswriters wrote ceaselessly about his loneliness during the chase, not always with much empathy.

“Maybe I’m not a great man,” he told reporters on the morning of October 1, “but I damn well want to break the record.”

Roger Maris hit that record-breaking 61st home run on October 1, 1961 in front of 23,000 or so at Yankee Stadium. Only very few people saw it as record breaking. The 1962 Little Red Book of Baseball (the closest thing to an official record book) only gave Roger Maris the “162 Game Record.” Ruth still had the 154-Game record.

It was that way until the Little Red Book changed its name to the Elias Book of Records in 1973 (and for some time after that). The Sporting News, which called itself the Bible of Baseball and was generally viewed that way, also printed Ruth’s record alongside Maris’.

“It would have been a helluva lot more fun,” Maris was quoted saying late in his life, “if I had not hit those 61 home runs.”

* * *

When Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on their laser light show in the summer of 1998, it was the first time in years that baseball captured America’s daily attention. People are always predicting the imminent death of baseball, always talking about how it moves too slowly for the kids, how it doesn’t have enough violence to excite our dulled senses, how games are too long and too common and too familiar to grab us anymore. But the game rolls along anyway, drawing in record crowds, setting various money-making records and every then now and again — the Cubs win the World Series, young Kansas City Royals electrify the Heartland, a kid from a tiny town in North Carolina gets everybody out, a bunch of self-proclaimed idiots beat the Yankees — baseball reminds us of its power.

And so, it was nothing but good feelings when McGwire and Sosa exchanged monster home runs nightly in 1998. Baseball was at a low point, for sure. The strike of 1994 canceled a World Series. The threatened replacement player scam of 1995 hurt baseball in countless ways. The 1997 Marlins won the World Series and represented more or less everything crummy, they were a collection of baseball mercenaries bought up up by Blockbuster Video titan Wayne Huizenga, and then the team was quickly dismantled after the season ended (the 1998 Marlins went 54-108, the most embarrassing World Series defense ever).

And then here was McGwire, a larger-than-life Californian hitting Ruthian home runs not only during games but also in spectacular batting practice displays for the fans. And then there was Sosa, the ultimate baseball story, a once-poor-kid from the Dominican Republic who swung hard and for the fences and with obvious joy. Back and forth they went, mashing baseballs, thrilling crowds, blowing minds, putting the game of baseball on the front pages of America’s newspapers.

McGwire broke Maris’ record on September 8, 1998 — fittingly in a game against Sosa’s Cubs. He hit No. 62 off Steve Trachsel on a a very un-McGwire trajectory; it was a line drive hit so low that McGwire did not think it would get out. But it did, barely sneaking over the fence, and McGwire was so overwhelmed by the moment that he initially missed first base. He promptly went over to hug the Maris family in a touching scene that seemed pulled from a movie.

Six days later, Sammy Sosa hit his 62nd home run off Eric Plunk of the Milwaukee Brewers.

McGwire famously ended up with 70 home runs that year, Sosa with 66, and both men would surpass 60 homers again the next year (Sosa would do it a third time in 2001). But, of course, their achievements would begin to lose luster. A reporter noticed a legal-supplement — androstenedione — in McGwire’s locker, and there was a bit of a commotion about it (most of it, at first, focused on the reporter). Rick Reilly, then of Sports Illustrated, asked Sosa to take a drug test, and there was a bit of a commotion about it (most of it, at first, focused on Reilly).

Bob Costas, among other national baseball people, began to question the authenticity of these home run records. Congress began to ask questions. Players and owners began to fight over drug testing. Tom Verducci’s “Totally Juiced” story for Sport Illustrated — featuring an explosive interview with the late Ken Caminiti — made an overwhelming case that steroid use in baseball was out of control.

And we know what happened then.

Mark McGwire ended up tearfully apologizing for his steroid use in an interview with Costas.

Sosa continuously denied ever using drugs — the New York Times did report that he failed a 2003 drug test that was supposed to be anonymous. In 2017, despite a career with more than 600 home runs and those three seasons where he “broke” the record, Sosa received just 8.6 percent of the Hall of Fame vote.

* * *

By the time Barry Bonds hit his 71st home run on October 5, 2001, almost nobody was buying it. He mashed it off Chan Ho Park, first inning, and the celebration was, at most, muted. Everyone seemed tired. There were too many home runs. It was like the morning after Halloween, the sugar high had dissipated, all that was left was the crash. Few people outside of San Francisco liked Barry Bonds anyway, and one of the sports of the day was finding photographs to compare Bonds’ bulk and head size through the year. Anyway, all of this was in the wake of 9/11, and there was a general somberness in America. Bonds hit a second home run off Park two innings later, No. 72, and it all felt kind of pointless.

“Our only error,” the television producer Albert Freedman would say in the wake of the “Twenty One” quiz show scandal in the 1960sl, “was that we were TOO successful.”

Bonds — unlike McGwire — never really had a stretch of time where America at large viewed him as the rightful home run king, despite his 73 home runs in 2001. Oh, sure, he has his supporters. Baseball has never seen ANYTHING like what he did from 2001-2004. He put up four of the craziest seasons in baseball history, capped by managers’ league-wide boycott of him — they intentionally walked him 120 times in 2004. Bonds got so good that he essentially broke the game.

But nobody really thought he was doing it clean. People have very different views of how much steroids helps a player perform and how we should view those players who never failed a drug test (in large part because there WERE no drug tests). But what is not in dispute is that Bonds’ insane performance just inspired more outrage about PEDs and what they were doing to the game and what it meant for the beloved history of baseball. Our only error was that we were too successful.

In 2007, when Bonds was chasing another beloved home run record — Henry Aaron’s career record of 755 homers — baseball comissioner history repeated itself. This time the commissioner was Bud Selig, a lifelong friend of Aaron’s. And though he did not make a public proclamation the way Ford Frick had, did not suggest displaying two records in the official books of the games, his actions and unhidden disdain suggested that he did not view Bonds’ record as legitimate and that he would continue to view Aaron as the true king.

And, like with Frick in ’61, the vast majority of people seemed to agree with Selig.

Barry Bonds has never admitted to taking steroids (though he did at one point say that he used various steroid substances in the belief that they were legal nutritional supplements). Bonds was indicted, went through trials, was found guilty of Obstruction of Justice, had the conviction overturned in appeal.

He once told reporters that he would boycott Cooperstown if his home run records were tarnished by asterisks. There are no asterisks — his 73 homers in a season and 762 career homers are listed in the Hall of Fame as the official records. As of today, in the plaque room of the Hall of Fame, there is also no Barry Bonds.

* * *

Now it is Giancarlo Stanton with 49 home runs and 35 games left to get into the range where he might break whatever home run record you think is legitimate. He has hit 20 home runs in his last 35 games, if that gives you any guidance to what’s possible.

Stanton is a wonder. I wrote about him a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned then that he is my daughter’s favorite player. I suspect he is many kids’ favorite player because he, paradoxcially, is both fearsome and lovable, a bit like that Linderman character in the film, “My Bodyguard.” Stanton doesn’t just hit a lot of home runs, he hits scary and one-of-a-kind home runs, missiles that scream out of parks. He’s baseball’s must-watch player at the moment.

And as he keeps adding to this incredible season, the ghosts of Babe Ruth’s challengers begin to howl. Stories about the “real record” have already begun, and they will only multiply. What is the “real record?” Some will see if he can hit 61 home runs before his 154th game. Some will see if he can reach 62. Some will see if he can approach the Sosa, McGwire, Bonds stratosphere … and if he can do so without spoken or unspoken charges tearing him down.

Then, it has always been this way, at least since that day in 1927 when Babe Ruth his hit 60th home run. It’s funny, it was even true that day. Ruth broke his own record of 59, set six years earlier in 1921.

“When Babe Ruth poled his sixtieth homer,” wrote The Chicago Tribune, “he ecliped his own season’s record, which many had never expected to see equalied.”

Wait for it …

“Of course, fences in many ball yards are closer to the home plate than they used to be, because in these days mroe space is used for seats for cash customers.”

So the fences were closer and … oh, theres more:

“Another thing, Babe’s reputation as a home run hitter is recognized as a turnstile stipulator and George Herman is encouraged to try his distance clouts.”

Yes, even Babe Ruth wasn’t quite as good as Babe Ruth.

So maybe the real record is 59.

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66 Responses to The Curse of the Home Run Record

  1. SDG says:

    Excellent article, Joe. And it’s true. Except I won’t say we don’t want ANYONE to break the HR records. Theoretically, if there were some perfect person, we’d love it. Clean character, great talent, no hint of PEDs or scandal or anything. If Griffey or Pujols or Trout could do it, maybe (although without the DH. For many people homers accrued while DHing won’t “count”). At the time Aaron broke the record, people grumbled about how he did it in more ABs and it doesn’t count and Aaron isn’t as good as Ruth a blah blah blah but since then Aaron has come to be seen as a worthy successor to this great and hallowed honour, due to both his play and his character. (Trivia: the only person to have a greater AB/HR rate than Ruth is McGwire who is, of course, tainted. Stanton in 4th on the list).

    But maybe it will always be something. If it hadn’t been Maris, but Mantle or Foxx or Greenberg to do it, even in 154 games, people would have found SOMETHING to complain about. Better training, lineup construction, the short porch in Tiger Stadium, SOMETHING. If ARod had been able to get just hit 19 more homers, everyone would have lost and complained about the DH, juiced balls, smaller parks, PEDs and everything else. And that’s not even the damn record any more. Because people don’t like ARod. Pujols, they’re maybe more forgiving. Maybe.

    And it’s only homers we do this with, not anything else. Take Pete Rose. Like Bonds, everyone thinks Rose is an ass. But no one insists the “real” hit record belongs to Ty Cobb.

    • invitro says:

      “But no one insists the “real” hit record belongs to Ty Cobb.” — Oh, I’m sure some people do. Something both you and Joe need to realize, and this should be obvious, but there are *some* people that will believe literally *anything*. There are millions of baseball fans in the US. State any opinion at all, and *someone* will have it. It’s utterly meaningless to worry about these infinitesimally minority opinions. It’s like the people who get OUTRAGED when Griffey doesn’t get 100% of the votes to the Hall of Fame. Who cares?

      And where you say “we” above… speak for yourself. Who do you personally not want to break the HR record?

      “Because people don’t like ARod.” — Come on. His roid rage makes him a cheater, but his lying makes him a scumbag. People don’t like ARod because ARod is not likable.

      • SDG says:

        I’m not sure what your point is. Yes, there are some people who don’t think Rose has more hits than Ty. or that Willie Mays doesn’t belong on the Hall or that the Yankees should move to Alaska. These are distinctly minority opinions. I’m sure you agree that there is no equivalent of Selig or top sportswriters or top players insisting that Ty is the “real” record holder, the way they do for Aaron. People are capable of thinking Pete Rose is an ass AND that he has more hits than anyone else in America. Far fewer people are/were willing to do that for Bonds, McGwire and, back in the day, Aaron and Maris.

        As for me, there’s no one I don’t want to see break the record because as far as I’m concerned, it’s about what happens on the baseball diamond and nothing else. If, say, Jeurys Familia holds the record I’ll be pissed off that he’s playing baseball and not punished for spousal abuse ,but I’ll still respect the record. The only way I could see what happens on the field being illegitimate is some kind of Black Sox situation where people were deliberately throwing games. That, to me, wouldn’t count. And I know the argument is that steroids fall into the same category, and they definitely should be banned because they fundamentally alter what a player can do, but it doesn’t rise to the same level, especially when you consider the pitchers were juiced as well.

        Basically, if the transgression is so bad you need to strike the games from the record, then you strike the homers as well. If MLB had decided that steroids were such a problem that all games in a certain period didn’t count, than any homers Barry hit in those games wouldn’t count either. But they didn’t. And they won’t. So steroids are part of the Bonds story like segregation is for Ruth.

        And as to ARod, you’re agreeing with me. People don’t like him. I like him but most people don’t. He was still treated terribly by the Yankees, and if St. Derek of Jeter were a negative value DH with 19 homers to go until 715 the Yankees would have kept him on until he hit them. ARod, they dump in the middle of the season when they aren’t even in WC contention and they have to pay him the rest of his contract. Thus my point – likeability shouldn’t matter to a numerical record but it does.

        • invitro says:

          “These are distinctly minority opinions.” — That’s my point. So is the idea that Bonds doesn’t have the HR records. I’m sure a few people believe that… so what?

          I find it odd to criticize *anything* the Yankees did to ARod, given what kind of person ARod is. Anyway.

        • invitro says:

          Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia that partially explains why ARod is a scumbag:

          In its official statement, MLB said the punishment was based on Rodriguez’s “use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”

          How could anyone like a player who does those things?

        • invitro says:

          “they definitely should be banned because they fundamentally alter what a player can do” — This is one reason why steroid/PED use* should be banned. But the main reason is that using them in the way baseball players were using people is extremely harmful to health, and encourages (or forces) other players to use them, if they want to keep their jobs, or make the same amount of money they’d be making if no player was using them. Someone who doesn’t understand the health aspects really doesn’t understand the entire issue, at all.

          * Well, *abuse*. I think use of these drugs in a legal and approved manner under the director of a doctor is a separate issue.

          • SDG says:

            This isn’t a discussion about PEDs in general. We’ve had that discussion on here and I’m sure we will again. Yes, they’re bad and need to be banned and tested for seriously.

            But this is about the HR record and who holds it. And it’s Barry Bonds. And it doesn’t matter whether he kicks puppies in his spare time or calls his mother every week. He has more HR than anyone else in major league play. Why do you keep talking about likeability? It doesn’t have anything to to with who hit a baseball and then circled the bases safely.

            PEDs are only relevant to the discussion if you think they mean Bonds shouldn’t be considered the record holder, the same way for a long time Maris wasn’t the record holder. Do you?

          • invitro says:

            Of course I think Bonds is the HR record(s) holder. I mean, it’s a fact.

        • Paul Zummo says:

          “If, say, Jeurys Familia holds the record I’ll be pissed off that he’s playing baseball and not punished for spousal abuse”
          —-
          This a sidtrack to the larger conversation, and I am generally in agreement with you there, but it needs to be emphasized that Familia was never charged with spousal abuse, and in fact the record of his arrest was expunged. We’ll never know with 100% certainty what happened that evening, but from the available evidence it seems that the wife’s concern that evening was Familia’s potential to harm himself, not her.

  2. SDG says:

    Also, I wonder if there are (or were) any Roger Connor purists out there who claim he has the real HR record. After all he had the dead ball. And he had to hit spitters. And none of those cheap over-the-fence jobs. He had to leg them all out. And he had to work in the offseason and couldn’t devote all his time to baseball. And and and.

  3. Chas says:

    Ruth batted in 152 games in 1921 (59 homers) and just 151 games in 1927. Looking at the right field distances of all the parks he hit in each season: in 1921 Ruth had an average distance of 291 feet down the line, and in 1927 it was 24 feet farther, 315 feet. Hitting 60 in 1927 seems like the tougher achievement.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Boy that old Yankee Stadium stadium configuration WAS really friendly. 296′ down the rightfield line and 344′ to straightaway right. Somewhat oddly though, Ruth hit more HRs away (32) than at home (28). That could have been because other stadiums were also small, as another poster noted, or because Ruth also hit the ball to other parts of the park, which were VERY unfriendly at Yankee Stadium. But, of course, it’s really hard to compare eras and players from different eras for a lot of reasons.

      • Richard says:

        Sure, there were short porches and the like in various stadia. But there were also “Death Valleys” like the 480 foot distance to left of center in Yankee Stadium.

        I strongly recommend “The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs” by Bill Jenkinson. He meticulously collected every account of a Babe Ruth HR he could get. He concluded that in the 1921 season, using today’s rules and current ballpark dimensions, Ruth would have given over 100 fans souvenirs – and could have hit ONE THOUSAND home runs over his career.

        He also notes that over his career, Ruth played about a season’s worth of exhibition games against black and integrated teams. Based on the what he got from reports on those games, he believes that Integration of Major League Baseball would NOT have affected his output.

        • Patrick says:

          That book is pure wishcasting. All the things that make it more likely for Ruth to hit homeruns? Totally would have happened. All the things, (like, as you note, integration) that might have negatively affected him? Not a big deal, because, reasons. I mean, how many homeruns would Aaron Judge hit if he was only facing white players from a country with 1/3 of the population, all of whom threw a lot slower, almost none of whom threw a slider, and who rarely got relieved for a fresh arm?

          • Richard says:

            Perhaps it is “wishcasting”. But how well would Aaron Judge do when he can’t get an MRI after every little twinge, and opposing pitchers don’t get a warning after pitching high and tight? And by the way, what’s Judge’s record as a pitcher? The point is that no one – now or probably ever – can replace Ruth as the greatest baseball player of all time.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            I think Aaron Judge is besides the point. It’s likely that all current players, regardless of race, would have done better in the 1920s if they were able to go back in time. The issue is whether, in the context of the 1920s, integration would have substantially affected Ruth? My guess is it would have some, but not that much. It’s not as if every Negro League pitcher was Satchel Paige. There must have been some that would not have been good enough for an integrated MLB. Yes, there would have been some white pitchers in the majors who would have been displaced by Negro League pitchers, but not all of them. So, yes, Ruth probably would have hit fewer homers, but how many? 20? 100? The assumption by many seems to be that integration would have made Ruth an average player and I don’t see any reason to assume that. And if you are talking about a lesser population, in fact, the Negro Leagues drew from a much smaller population (African-Americans obviously) than did MLB because whites constituted a much larger share of the US population. Plus, in the 1920s, most of the top white athletes likely played baseball. Don’t get me wrong-segregation was terrible and it clearly lessened the quality of MLB. But I don’t think you can simply assume that integration would have made the great white players bums.

        • Patrick says:

          “But how well would Aaron Judge do when he can’t get an MRI after every little twinge, and opposing pitchers don’t get a warning after pitching high and tight?”

          I don’t know, which is why I’m not writing a book called “The Year Aaron Judge hit 125 Home Runs.”

          “And by the way, what’s Judge’s record as a pitcher?”

          Irrelevant, since we’re talking about the home run record.

  4. Grover Jones says:

    I think the real takeaway is that we should go back to a 154-game season. A (little) extra briskness never hurt anyone. It would make the margins of the season more tolerable too.

  5. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    “At the time Aaron broke the record, people grumbled about how he did it in more ABs and it doesn’t count and Aaron isn’t as good as Ruth a blah blah blah but since then Aaron has come to be seen as a worthy successor to this great and hallowed honour, due to both his play and his character.”

    All true, but there was, of course, another factor in emerging consensus that Aaron was a worthy successor to Ruth. Specifically, by the 1990s, most of the people who had seen Babe Ruth in person were dead. On the other hand, the generation of children who had thrilled to Aaron’s pursuit of the record were now adult broadcasters, sports writers, and fans.

    I sometimes wonder how the children of the late 90s and early 2000s (who are now entering their late 20s and early 30s) feel about being told that the game they loved as kids was tainted and illegitimate. And in about twenty or thirty years, when the Aaron generation is largely gone and the Bonds generation is telling the story of baseball (in whatever form sports writing takes by then), I wonder if the middle-aged millennials will reclaim their era and turn Bonds and the rest the Selig-era crew into heroes.

    I’m not taking a position here, I just think it’s going to be interesting, and I’m sorry I won’t be around to see what happens. But if the past few decades–hell, the past few weeks–have taught us anything, it’s that the definition of heroes and heroism is far more fluid that we’d prefer to think.

    • invitro says:

      “I wonder if the middle-aged millennials will reclaim their era and turn Bonds and the rest the Selig-era crew into heroes.” — I think this is halfway happened already. When they go into the Hall, which I think will happen in about 4 months, the process will be complete. The reporting will probably say that Bonds’ election is an act of Social Justice. 🙂

      • Greetings and salutations illustrious Invitro. So you’re tugging at something that is vaguely intelligent but doing it in such a way that makes you look utterly foolish; but hear me out this isn’t aimed at you as a particular blight or anything. There is a theoretical extant “Social Justice” in all humanity and there are groups that are wronged, except that the vast majority of pursuits in this vein are at least somewhat monetarily motivated bullshit; also the correlation with “Wronged” has more to do with who has money/lives in a first world country and who doesn’t than anything else. My personal viewpoint is simple “All men are equal under the sun except for the unique gifts God has granted them,” Napoleon Bonaparte (who employed African Marshals in the early 1800s); I feel like this is virtually indisputable as written. However the communal sense of justice as it is driven by stupid people by and large fails to see the overarching point and must accomplish some small thing with their task instead of attacking the larger establishment in some way that might actually change things.

        To Bonds and Baseball: Bonds unquestionably suffered racism from being African American, but it probably has only a small amount to do with his lack of acceptance in the baseball culture; that’s easy enough to chalk up to image/”Well-Likedness.” Now if Bonds pushed that angle hardcore for the next several years it would probably work quite well getting into the HoF; but he’s only kind of mildly doing that right now; if he does push it harder than you have a point. But ultimately the only fucking thing that matters is whether Bonds was one of the best players of all time. Yes he was. Boom HoF. That’s it. This isn’t a debatable player like Palmeiro; Bonds is better than fucking everyone in baseball right now including Mike Trout, he was better than practically everyone that came before him; Bonds and Clemens are top 5 players all time. It makes no fucking difference how big of a douchebag they are, whether they’re black or white, how much they cheated, how much they abused women (which I’d guess about 50% of HoFers have done to one degree or another); these are the best of the best and that’s the end of the story (and everyone likes stories where the characters have flaws anyway).

    • SDG says:

      I agree with this. In a decade or two the kids who saw Aaron play will be retired or dead and the ones who saw Bonds will remember how great he was and how much they liked watching him play. And those kids will complain about Kids These Days and how all the new players are terrible who onlt care about fat contracts and their abs and what happened to baseball and they will be just as obnoxious as every baby boomer who ever idealized Mantle while complaining about how today’s ballplayers use drugs.

      Thing is though, Maris never got his redemptive moment. All the broadcasters and old players who praise Aaron never really liked that Maris held the season record and were excited for McGwire or Sosa to hold it instead.

      • invitro says:

        The comparison between Aaron and Bonds is just silly. Aaron was a national hero when he was at his peak, beloved by just about every fan. Bonds… not so much. I don’t think much of anyone liked Bonds except for Giants fans, and a few of a certain type of people that instinctively love anyone that the rest of us dislike.

        • SDG says:

          No one but a few Reds fans like Pete Rose, but he still has the most hits.

        • MikeN says:

          I loved Bonds. I also had no suspicion about steroids as he was setting the record.

        • EnzoHernandez11 says:

          You’re right, of course, about the relative regard people had (have?) for Aaron vs. Bonds. But time does some weird things–I’m not at all suggesting that the situations are identical (or even particularly analogous), but even as late as the late 1970s, people would have been shocked to learn that in just 30 years, Ted Williams would be a beloved national hero and Joe DiMaggio would be considered a weird and kind of creepy figure.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          But the point is, soon most people will not have seen Aaron play. (That may be true today, I suppose.) And, yes, his reputation as a national hero who battled racism will endure, but given our national amnesia about any kind of history, it’s likely that many of that generation will either not know or not care. And a lot of people won’t remember that Bonds was a prick. I’m pretty sure you could find a fair number of people who don’t know what Jackie Robinson did.

      • Richard says:

        At least we’ve got video of Aaron.

        You know, I rather think that in addition to (or perhaps even instead of – but that’s a discussion for another day) breaking up Baseball into pre- and post- integration eras, we should consider a “pre-TV” and “TV” era, too. Not only could people now SEE more players, but it also became easier to RECORD more players in action.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I was a kid when Aaron broke the record. Although I had a sense of history and of Babe Ruth (I even read a book about him), Aaron was totally legit in my mind. As a Dodger fan, nobody in the league was more scary to me than Aaron. Vin Scully would commonly say something like “And of course, with the game on the line, up comes Henry Aaron” (Vin always called him “Henry). It scared me to death (and that’s what Vin intended to convey to us). And it seemed like it always happened when the Dodgers played the Braves, AND it felt like he always came through and wrecked the game. Of course, I know that was likely untrue. But, as a kid, I always thought he was the most dangerous hitter in the league. It made zero sense to me when old timers would argue differently. I imagine our kids feel the same about their heroes.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        The interesting thing about Aaron, though, is that it wasn’t until the playoff series with the Mets in 1969 that he really entered the national conscious. People thought of him as a very good player, but he certainly didn’t have the recognition of Mays, Mantle, etc. It was the series against the Mets that vaulted him into the spotlight and then people began to realize, hey, this guy has a shot at Ruth’s record.

        I think what he had to overcome to break the record gives Aaron even greater historical significance.

  6. Bryan says:

    Mitchell Report page 28: In 1973, a Congressional subcommittee announced that its staff had completed an “in depth study into the use of illegal and dangerous drugs in sports” including professional baseball. The subcommittee concluded that “the degree of improper drug use—primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids— can only be described as alarming.”
    *
    1971-1973 Willie Stargell finds his home run stroke after turning 31 before the 1971 season. His 125 HR are the most in MLB, prior to that season his season high is 31 HR, in any 3 year span ending in 1970 or earlier Stargell is not in the Top 10 for HR.
    *
    Stargell is named as an amphetamine supplier by Dale Berra and John Milner in a 1985 cocaine trial which leads to seven players suspended a year for being prolonged drug users and also facilitating distribution to other players. Four additional 60 day suspensions and ten other players being named but not suspended. Keith Hernandez initially claimed that around 250 baseball players were using cocaine although he later recants the statement instead of becoming a NY Times best-selling author like Jose Canseco. Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth declares “I believe baseball is going to be the first sport to be free of drugs, the players have had enough of it.”
    *
    In late 1987, 352 of 427 members of the BBWAA elect Willie Stargell to the Hall of Fame. It would take another 20 years or so for the BBWAA to consider steroid suspicions relevant to HoF voting.
    *
    #2 in HR from 1971-1973 with 121 is Hank Aaron who turned 37 before the 1971 season and then promptly sets his career high with 47 HR in spite of being limited to 139 games. Aaron is among the Top 10 in HR in a three year span all but the first 3 years of his career, was even the leader before beginning to have an apparent age related decline and being passed by youngsters Frank Howard and Willie McCovey. Aaron hits more HR than Howard (48) and McCovey (61) combined from 1971-1973.
    *
    #3 is Bobby Bonds with 98, he turned 25 before the 1971 season. Bonds hits 265 HR starting in 1971. Willie Stargell hits 279 starting in 1971 even being six years older. Late in 1986, 24 of 413 BBWAA voters select Bonds, PED use quite possibly has a profound affect on that vote. 332 HR, 461 SB, 3 Gold Gloves and an expectation that a player won’t remain productive in his mid 30s is a pretty good Hall of Fame case but not so much when HoF standards are raised by late career surges by Stargell and Aaron.
    *
    “Bob Costas, among other national baseball people, began to question the authenticity of these home run records. Congress began to ask questions. Players and owners began to fight over drug testing. Tom Verducci’s “Totally Juiced” story for Sport Illustrated — featuring an explosive interview with the late Ken Caminiti — made an overwhelming case that steroid use in baseball was out of control.”
    *
    Bob Costas was doing ABA radio play-by-play for KMOX when congress investigated steroid use in baseball and other sports and Tom Verducci was about to start high school. For a June 2002 article in SI to be an “explosive interview” you would need to completely ignore about 30 years of information that already existed about the use of drugs in MLB, something the BBWAA generally does but has no basis in reality.
    *
    Willie Stargell dies at age 61 and had suffered from kidney problems for years, the kidney issues and the relatively short life are the two biggest health risks associated with steroid use. It’s entirely possible that Willie Stargell never used steroids, but if you want to point to numbers and say “of course Sosa used steroids” it’s easy to do the same with Stargell and being named as an amphetamine supplier in a criminal trial has to count as much as being on a list of 103 players along with Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz and Roberto Alomar.
    *
    I have no way of knowing whether or not Willie Stargell or just about anyone used PEDs. Tom House is (one of) the only player(s) to admit to steroid use who was a contemporary of Stargell. Admitting to cocaine and/or amphetamine use is more common for players from Stargell’s era if steroids aren’t considered a separate issue from PEDs. More players have admitted to steroid use who were contemporaries of Sammy Sosa and Derek Jeter and only one of those players had two Top 10 MVP finishes after turning 35.

    • invitro says:

      “it’s easy to do the same with Stargell and being named as an amphetamine supplier in a criminal trial has to count as much as being on a list of 103 players along with Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz and Roberto Alomar.” — I don’t see what amphetamine has to do with steroids. You do know that amphetamine isn’t a steroid, right? And you do know that no player is “named” in the Mitchell Report unless there is actual evidence that he used steroids or other PEDs, right?

      “I have no way of knowing whether or not Willie Stargell or just about anyone used PEDs.” — So you’re just ignoring the canceled checks and other hard evidence in the Mitchell Report? Do you also have no way of knowing if a person commits a crime unless he admits to it?

      • Bryan says:

        Excluding prescriptions which would be legal and allowed by MLB rule for either, the difference between anabolic steroids and amphetamines is that 1970-1987 (technically also 1988-1989 but no legal way to obtain) anabolic steroids would not violate any law or MLB rule while amphetamines would violate a law and 2005-2006 amphetamines would still violate the law but not an MLB rule and anabolic steroids would violate both. Both go unpunished by MLB through 2004 and it’s a lot more common to get a therapeutic-use exemption for amphetamines in the testing era.
        *
        Dianabol (brand name of most popular anabolic steroid) tablets and Benzedrine (amphetamine) tablets are pretty similar up until 1970 when Benzedrine becomes a controlled substance in the US.
        *
        Lyle Alzado dies of brain cancer in 1992 at the age of 43 and states in an SI interview that he began taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and believes they are the cause of his brain cancer. Ben Johnson tests positive for Dianabol in 1988 and is stripped of his 100m Gold Medal and his 1987 World Record. Anabolic steroids are added to the Controlled Substances Act in 1988. There are reasons for a large perceptive difference in the 21st century, but not in the early 1970s.
        *
        The main reason against anabolic steroid use at the time was that being well muscled wasn’t considered a desirable baseball physique. It’s entirely possible that Stargell believed that increased muscles wouldn’t improve his hitting in the early 70s but there is no reasonable basis for him to consider Benzedrine and Dianabol dramatically different prior to 1970 and then it’s Benzedrine which becomes a controlled substance while Dianabol doesn’t become a controlled substance until after Stargell retires.
        *
        Timeline:
        1887 – amphetamines invented.
        1932 – first common use of amphetamines, Benzedrine Inhaler for asthma. Then introduced in tablet form as people would smash open the inhaler and soak the strip from the inhaler in coffee or otherwise consume it directly. Amphetamines are by and large no more regulated than caffeine, soldiers are often issued amphetamines.
        1958 – anabolic steroids invented.
        1964 – IOC (Olympics) creates first list of banned substances, does not include anabolic steroids.
        1965 – U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates use of amphetamines, USFDA was responsible for prescription drugs 1938-1969.
        *
        1970 – Controlled Substances Act, amphetamines without a prescription are now illegal as opposed to regulated. Anabolic steroids are not part of the initial act.
        1975 – IOC bans anabolic steroids.
        1984 – MLB Joint Drug Committee created: if a club suspects a problem but the player declines treatment, a three-person board of professionals will review the case. If the board recommends treatment and player declines, the commissioner can impose penalties.
        1986 – Arbitrator Thomas Roberts rules the for union in the drug clause grievances. 459 players had drug testing clauses in their contracts, that portion of the contract is now void. Thomas Roberts is fired by MLB.
        *
        1988 – sale of anabolic steroids in the US becomes illegal without a prescription.
        1990 – possession of anabolic steroids in the US becomes illegal without a prescription.
        1991 – Fay Vincent issues a memo singling out steroids but also mentioning all controlled substances.
        2002 – Joint Drug Program is part of the CBA, a survey test will be conducted and if it results in at least 5% positive tests, then testing with penalties will begin the following year.
        2003 – 7% (103 of 1438) are positive results without following proper drug testing procedures, most notably not re-testing B-samples.
        Jan 2005 – pressure from Congress results in increasing suspensions to a total of 100 days for 3 failed tests (10, 30 and 60 day suspensions).
        *
        2005 season – Alex Sanchez is the first MLB player suspended, Rafael Palmeiro is the most famous player suspended, 11 total MLB suspensions.
        Excuse #1 (Sanchez): “I take some kind of stuff I buy over the counter. Multi-vitamin, protein shakes, muscle relaxers, that kind of stuff. Over-the-counter stuff. Stuff to give me energy. I’m surprised because look at what kind of player I am. I never hit any home runs. I don’t know. It surprised me.”
        Nov 2005 – suspensions increased again, 50 day, 100 day and lifetime for first three failed tests.
        2006 – MLB issued 28 therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) mostly for amphetamines. 3 MLB players suspended.
        2007 – MLB to suspend for amphetamines and issues 103 TUEs mostly for amphetamines. 6 MLB players (7 suspensions, 2 for Neifi Perez) suspended.
        2008-Present – Either attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has a very high correlation with elite baseball ability or the TUE program is being abused to essentially legalize amphetamines.

        • invitro says:

          “Dianabol (brand name of most popular anabolic steroid) tablets and Benzedrine (amphetamine) tablets are pretty similar” — Well, no, they’re not similar. They’re completely different chemically and medically. They have nothing at all in common.

          “Either attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has a very high correlation with elite baseball ability or the TUE program is being abused to essentially legalize amphetamines.” — It’s probably just very easy to get an exemption for amphetamine. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a prescription for amphetamine, a very small prescription. I find it helps me a lot to get tedious tasks done. I can easily see how baseball players would find that it helps them do their jobs.

          I personally think that any baseball player who can convince a doctor to give them an amphetamine prescription, and then doesn’t abuse the prescription, should not be considered to have done anything wrong by anyone.

          My point with amphetamine is that I know it is a very different drug than steroids are, and I think saying players that use amphetamine are as guilty as players that use steroids is very simple-minded.

          I am trying to get a less binary attitude about steroids and PED’s, myself. I think it should make a big difference whether a player took steroids/PED’s once (as many players claim to have done; yes, I know that many are surely lying), or repeatedly over a period of many years. But that information is very difficult or impossible to come by as hard evidence. We do have other evidence–stats and appearance–that I think are more reliable predictors of steroid/PED use than many fans think.

          • Bryan says:

            Sildenafil and Minoxidil are very different. Viagra and Rogaine don’t have much perceptive difference, they are commonly available, there is a general assumption they are safe products and neither is banned in the Olympics.
            *
            Levo/dextro-amphetamine and Metandienone are very different. In 1970 Benzedrine and Dianabol don’t have much perceptive difference, they are commonly available, there is a general assumption they are safe products and neither is banned in the Olympics.
            *
            Barry Bonds used PEDs, thanks to millions of dollars spent by the government on investigation and prosecution and additional investigation by private individuals even accepting the legal result that Barry Bonds didn’t knowingly use PEDs and therefore did not commit perjury, he does admit to using the cream “a rubbing balm for arthritis” and the clear “flaxseed oil” which are in fact PEDs.
            *
            Maybe the key is never hitting 50 HR in a season, Aaron and Pujols must be clean because they never even hit as many HR in a season as Brady Anderson, while Barry Bonds does once. But Pujols does something very natural, he ages:
            *
            Pujols 21-30: 331/426/624
            Pujols 31-37: 267/325/472
            Aaron 21-30: 323/380/576
            Aaron 31-40: 296/378/566
            *
            Barry Bonds doesn’t have the legitimate career HR record, not a problem, but there is no particular reason to believe Hank Aaron hit all his HRs legitimately either. Aaron just lucked out that the government didn’t spend millions of dollars investigating him after the congressional investigation of 1973.
            *
            I’m willing to review the stats and toss out suspicious numbers in the absence of reliable or any PED testing. Going by stats alone Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan are as likely to be PED users as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

          • invitro says:

            Well, why would you want to go by stats alone? There’s a vast amount of evidence that Bonds used PED’s, including (I think) a couple of failed drug tests. Bonds obviously changed the size of certain parts of his body. Looking at the head might sound silly, but changes in head size really are indicators of steroid/PED use.

            And again, if Aaron used amphetamine, I personally could care less.

          • Bryan says:

            Because stats alone are the only realistic option if you’re genuinely interested in determining the “clean” record.
            *
            Henry Waxman: In 1973, the year I first ran for Congress, the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce concluded a year-long investigation that found — and I quote — “drug use exists ¦ in all sports and levels of competition ¦ In some instances, the degree of improper drug use — primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids — can only be described as alarming.”
            *
            The Committee’s chairman — Harley Staggers — was concerned that making those findings public in a hearing would garner excessive attention and might actually encourage teenagers to use steroids. Instead, he quietly met with the commissioners of the major sports, and they assured him the problem would be taken care of.
            *
            Chairman Staggers urged Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to consider instituting tough penalties and testing. And he trusted Commissioner Kuhn to do that. In fact, in a press release in May 1973, Chairman Staggers said — and again I quote — “Based on the constructive responses and assurances I have received from these gentlemen, I think self-regulation will be intensified, and will be effective.”
            *
            In 1973 Mark Fainaru-Wada is 8 years old and is of no help. Bud Selig is concerned about turning a profit from the purchase of the Seattle Pilot franchise 3 years earlier and is also of no help. Unless you think Congress completely botched the investigation there is “alarming” PED use in baseball in the early 70s.
            *
            In small samples it’s impossible as you will simply wipe out every record. Bob Beamon set his famous high jump record “at altitude” but also set it 11 years after anabolic steroids were invented and before they were banned from the Olympics.
            *
            Even in a sample of a single baseball season Davey Johnson in 1973, Roger Maris in 1961, Brady Anderson in 1996 (he does admit to creatine use), Carlton Fisk in 1985 and Wilbur Wood in 1971 you would simply be eliminating all those seasons which is largely pretty pointless and also begs the question why wouldn’t those players continue use the same thing(s) the following season.
            *
            Over the course of a longer period of time you can take a look at someone like Gorman Thomas and ponder if he uses PEDs to go from ‘Player to be Named Later’ to 35 HR per season until a shoulder injury derails his career. If Gorman’s career is PED powered it definitely worked out for him, $3mil contract in the early 80s is a lot of money, career ends largely due to a shoulder injury removing the temptation for longer term use and higher health risks.
            *
            If you’re willing to look at career stats and assume that other young Brewers like Gary Sheffield (accepting his tried BALCO and left explanation) and Prince Fielder used PEDs, you should be making the same assumption for Gorman.
            *
            If there is no way Roger Clemens keeps pitching at a high level into his 40s without help then assume the same about Nolan Ryan even if there wasn’t millions of dollars spent investigating Nolan to provide a bunch of circumstantial evidence.
            *
            If Sammy Sosa leading the league in HR only at 31 and 33 is suspicious, Willie Stargell does the same thing. It’s actually more suspicious for Stargell since those are his two best HR seasons instead of his 4th and 5th best.

          • invitro says:

            ‘Because stats alone are the only realistic option if you’re genuinely interested in determining the “clean” record.’ — Again, this makes no sense. We know for a fact that Bonds and ARod and plenty of other players used steroids & PED’s. They can’t be considered for any “clean record” that one might try to come up with.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Invitro, the question is what do you mean by “guilty.” Assuming you are correct that amphetamines are different than steroids, it seems to me the intent was still the same. They weren’t supposed to be taking amphetamines just as they weren’t supposed to be taking steroids. I assume that steroids are more dangerous (and more beneficial to performance) than amphetamines, but the intent is still to improve (or, at least reduce diminishment of ) performance. I don’t see that much difference other than steroids became easily available after amphetamines (and, perhaps, later players could afford them more easily). I guess the difference between amphetamines and steroids is like the difference between pot and cocaine; they are both illegal (well, still in most states), but one is likely worse than the other.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I think you may have missed a couple of key factors in the “late career’ surges of HRs for Stargell and Aaron. First, obviously, is that the 60s were pitcher friendly with high mounds, generous strike zones and low batting output in general. The second was their new ballparks. Aaron moved to Fulton County Stadium (The Launchpad) in 1966 and promptly had an uptick in HRs. In 1973 when he hit 40 HRs as a 39 year old, he hit 27 of those HRs at home. He had only 12 doubles that year (only 3 at home!!), which might imply that some “doubles” flew out of the park at home. Stargell moved away from a HR hell in Forbes Field in 1970 when he was 30. And never had a 30 HR year after age 33. So his career arc wasn’t really that unusual when you consider the rule changes and park changes at that exact time. So while you can imply that perhaps steroids and/or amphetamines were the cause of their late career numbers, there are more obvious factors at play that we KNOW had an impact.

      • Bryan says:

        Basic Calculation to factor out likelihood of HR at Aaron’s home park: AaronHR * (1+(HomeHRvsBraves/RoadHRvsBraves)) / 2
        *
        Aaron hits 731 HR for the Braves instead of 733, his career high is 53.49 in 1957, his 1964-65 slump is 24.62 and 26.24 instead of 24 and 32 HR. And then starting at Age 32 in Atlanta: 34.61, 31.09, 29.34, 37.71, 29.54 for a total of 162.29 instead of 194, gains 19.5% more HR because of his homepark by a very basic park adjustment.
        *
        Then in 1971-1973 it’s 39.69, 29.94, 33.10 for a total of 102.74 instead of 121, gains 17.8% more HR because of his homepark by a very basic park adjustment.
        *
        Pirates pitchers give up 183 road HR and 125 home HR, adjusting for homefield Stargell has 154.19 instead of 125. Bobby Bonds 98.20 instead of 98. Lee May 101.66 instead of 96. Johnny Bench 98.56 instead of 92. Reggie Jackson 84.09 instead of 89.
        *
        Throw out 20 HR for The Launchpad, Aaron is still hitting as many HR as anyone except Stargell in a 3 year span that he’s Age 37-39. Stargell most likely has ~50% more HR than anyone else, maybe someone will have a large enough modifier to have considerably more than 100 HR but chances are averaging 51 HR a year in the early 70s is going to lead the majors by a lot.

  7. Whether or not we like it–and I’m sure we don’t–one of the issues we face in discussing records in any sport is what you might call comparative competition. Ruth played only day games, and had to ride trains, while Aaron played a lot of night games and rode planes later in his career–did those factors affect them for good and ill? Besides the 162-game season, Maris played against nine teams while Ruth played against seven, and Bonds wound up playing against several more, being around for interleague play–did that make it harder because of the variety of pitchers they faced, or easier because expansion reduced the quality of players, if in fact it did? Bonds may have used steroids, but he was batting against pitchers who were using them, too–does that mean his achievement is tarnished only for himself, or because the competition was using them it really doesn’t matter?

    And Babe Ruth never batted during a regular season against Satchel Paige, or had Josh Gibson competing with him for the home run crown. Does that make Ruth less Ruthian?

    I’m sure all of these have come up before. Here’s one to ponder: Ruth played at a time when there were only two or three umpires. How many situations did he benefit from because it was harder for them to get the calls right? The answer is … who knows and who cares? We don’t know, but as lovers of baseball, we sure do care.

    • invitro says:

      “Bonds may have used steroids” — And he may have hit at least a couple of home runs. And he may have played baseball. And he may have been on the Pirates for a year or two.

    • SDG says:

      Yes, but that’s true for all record in baseball. And if we can look at better equipment, different balls, better fielding, night games, air travel, better fitness and medical care, time lost to military service, the color line, the end of the reserve clause, rising salaries, the DH, international competition, relief pitchers, inconsistent umpiring, changes to the strike zone, different dimensions and conditions and different ballparks and the air in Denver, we can do it for PEDs.

      The HR record isn’t about who would objectively hit the most homers under lab conditions. It’s who actually did it in real life.

      • Patrick says:

        “The HR record isn’t about who would objectively hit the most homers under lab conditions. It’s who actually did it in real life.”

        This right here. Everyone has tried to make the HR record into a lab experiment, with identical conditions and what not (see the Ruth book mentioned above). We don’t see this with Rose’s hits record, or Ichiro’s, or Rickey Henderson’s runs record.

        • invitro says:

          “Everyone has tried to make the HR record into a lab experiment” — “Everyone”, huh? Does that include you? Because it doesn’t include me. Or, probably, 99.9% of baseball fans. Strange definition of “everybody”.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Invitro, I think you are being overly semantic in attacking Patrick for using “everybody.” It’s a figure of speech; he doesn’t literally mean everyone. He’s trying to make the point that a lot of people on sites like this over-analyze the topic.

  8. Mark Stobbe says:

    I’m with Larry Marchand from way back when. A record is a count, a measurement. It is what it is. What it is not is a measure of moral rectitude.

  9. Scott says:

    Joe, I have about 6 different baseball history books that each attempt to cover the history of baseball over many decades to the date they were written. One developed from (maybe in conjunction with?) Ken Burns’ documentary. One divided into two volumes, one for each league. One that stops in the 1970s, because that was the end of “real” baseball.

    I haven’t even thought to look for a new book of similar scope in years because I already have 6, and there’s so many books to read about specific items of baseball history, including your own past works. But I’d sure run out to buy a 7th if you ever put together your own History of Base Ball.

  10. Kuz says:

    It appears, in fact, that history is written by both the winners and losers.

  11. James says:

    Of course, Stanton hit another home run, so now has 50, with 33 games left. This is the problem with Stanton’s season. You can’t write anything down, because it will change by the next game.

  12. dtslcd says:

    Thanks Joe – I appreciate your adding the writers’ commentary from back in the day. It got me thinking – if the writers went nuts over Maris’ 61, what must they have said when Ruth first hit 29, then 54?? The purists back then must have hated him for ‘ruining their game’. Or maybe they were just too awestruck by what they were seeing

    • invitro says:

      “The purists back then must have hated him for ‘ruining their game’.” — Sure, lots of guys hated the changes in baseball that happened because of Ruth. Players, managers, writers. People were complaining about home runs earlier this season, though I haven’t seen too many of those complaints recently (I think a lot of baseball fans go to sleep in August, and set the timer for the last week in September).

  13. MikeN says:

    The record could have been 67. Foxx’s 58 had 9 home runs taken away by park changes.

  14. Scott says:

    How do we know that Stanton is clean? Everyone is just assuming that he is, without any proof one way or the other.

    • invitro says:

      Well, it’s only my opinion, and a weak one at that, but I do think players on steroids do have a different body type (especially in the head), and a person can train themselves to notice that body type by looking at lots of pictures of known steroid users, before and after. I’ve looked closely at Stanton, and he doesn’t physically look like a steroid user to me. (One guy on the Indians did, in the last World Series.) Sounds silly, I know, but I really think a baseball player’s body changes in a noticeable way, if one has trained oneself to notice the changes.

      Also, hopefully it’s a fair assumption that MLB is catching the steroid users at a pretty high rate now. Maybe there are some undetectable drugs… I don’t know.

      And even Stanton’s current hot streak doesn’t seem to be a record-setter. I’ve seen several claims that he’s #3 or #4 all-time in homers in August, or in a certain number of games. Maybe Rhys Hoskins is the player people should be looking at :). (The number of young players setting records for shortest time to X HR’s seems to be very high in the last couple of years. I wish someone could confirm or deny this, and give a reason why it’s happening, if it’s true. It seems like every couple of months, there’s a new rookie setting a HR record.)

      • KHAZAD says:

        These judgements based on the eye are so much horse hockey. The majority of people suspended since testing began have not been players of size (Dee Gordon,Marlon Byrd twice, Raul Mondesi Jr, Starling Marte this year to name a few),more pitchers than hitters as well, (Ervin Santana, Edinson Volquez, Bartolo Colon,Jenry Mejia with a lifetime ban for three times) I am not saying that Stanton uses, or accusing him of it, but there is someone using their judgement of his power to say that he is as well. The problem with these judgements with steroids is that, lacking actual evidence or a positive test, you can look at anyone and come up with a way to look at it that conforms to whatever preconceived notions you have as to whether or not the player is using, and it usually comes down to if you like the guy, he is clean, if you don’t he is not.

        “He has always been big” is used as “proof” by different people to both exonerate and to accuse. I have seen both a late career surge and a a player breaking down early and having no late career to speak of pointed to as “proof” of use.

        I had a conversation with someone who said (in accusing someone without even anecdotal evidence) that the player’s body style changed in his 30’s, he stopped stealing bases, and his hat size increased, and he had alot of injuries late in his career (allegedly because of the steroid use). All this despite him having seemingly a normal aging curve. I asked him if he was talking about Ken Griffey Jr, (about whom all of the above are true) and he looked at me like a blasphemer, because he (like many others) grew of loving Jr and his smile.

        Even those who actually have proof against them are often judged by whether we liked them in the first place. I have a friend who is a Yankee fan. He doesn’t want Arod (who lacking the steroid thing would be a first ballot hall of famer) to ever make the Hall because he lied. However, he wants Andy Pettite (a borderline – to me a hall of very good – hall of famer at best) to make it, even though he was caught, he lied about it, he tried to take the spotlight off himself by throwing Clemens under the bus, then admitted it and apologized ONLY when there was actual evidence, said it was the only time he ever did it, then added another instance when proof developed he had done it another year, saying in his second apology that these two times were the only two times he had done it. Then, no longer trying to save himself. went back on what he said about Clemens in testimony. A liar several times over, and a proven user, but the guy likes Pettite, and doesn’t like Arod.

        I have seen others denigrate someone whose only positive test was a one of the leaked 2003 tests, then discount the positive test at the same time against David Ortiz (a player they liked) because it was his only one and they hadn’t started suspensions then and it should not have been leaked.

        Some of the people that have tested positive now are widely unknown other than by fans of their team or people who had them on their fantasy team when it happened. It is just the people of the “era” who seem damned. Even the home run hitters who have been suspended. Nelson Cruz has led the major leagues in home runs in the almost 4 seasons since coming back from his suspension, and it is basically never mentioned.

  15. Jeff says:

    In reading about the home run chase in 1961, I never see anyone mention that only the AL teams played 162 games that year. The NL teams still played 154 games because the NL did not expand until 1962. This discrepancy must have affected the mentality of Frick and others when considering the validity of the home run record.

    Suppose the AL extends the season to 170 games and a clean player hits 74 home runs in a season, while the NL remains with a season of 162 games. I am guessing that the same controversy would be repeated today.

    • invitro says:

      Well… probably just about everyone would be so thrilled to have Bonds’ record broken, that no one would care about the number of games. 🙂

  16. Barry says:

    Who is Joe talking about ‘a kid from a tiny town in North Carolina gets everybody out?’ I have no idea and it’s driving me crazy.

  17. Bryan says:

    “Your daily reminder of how silly it was: The amazing Giancarlo Stanton has 51 HRs in 491 at-bats. Barry Bonds had 73 HRs in 476 at-bats.”
    *
    Roger Maris May 17-July 25: 37 HR in 259 AB
    + Giancarlo June 9-Aug 29: 36 HR in 260 AB
    = Giancarlo Maris: 73 HR in 519 AB
    They also combine for 67 HR in 435 AB if you start Stanton at July 5th.
    *
    It was so crazy, one guy who never again hit 50 HR in a season combines the best stretches of two players who never hit 40 HR before that season and or after for at least one of the two.

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