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As New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge inches closer to breaking the American League single-season home run record, a debate is brewing.
For years, fans of baseball have argued over the single-season home run record, with Barry Bonds’ 73 and Mark McGwire’s 70 home runs coming during a time dubbed the “steroid era.”
Since Major League Baseball started testing for performance-enhancing substances in 2003, no player has hit more than 60 home runs in a season, raising the question of whether Roger Maris’ 61 home runs is the real record to beat.
Judge doesn’t believe this to be the case.
“Seventy-three is the record,” Judge told Sports Illustrated. “In my book. No matter what people want to say about that era of baseball, for me, they went out there and hit 73 homers and 70 homers, and that to me is what the record is. The AL record is 61, so that is one I can kind of try to go after. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s been a fun year so far.”
It’s been a banner year for Judge, whose performance sits at 57 home runs through 143 games. He’ll undoubtedly be named the American League MVP and will demand a massive contract during the offseason.
“A lot of the work he’s done up to this point, not just this year, it’s showing itself,” Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson says. “His ability to handle more types of pitches is most impressive. It’s having the information and now being able to use it, because he’s more skilled.
“Maybe the most impressive thing is he’s found a way to improve without going outside of his strengths. Guys with power typically have to lose some power to gain more contact. He’s kept it.”
His best season in the majors comes shortly after turning down New York’s $213.5 million contract offer in the offseason, betting – correctly – on himself. The terms of the offer were made public by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
“I could have taken it out on the organization and taken it out on the fan base and taken it out on my teammates,” Judge told SI. “But I kind of turned it into a positive. Like, ‘Hey, we didn’t get it done. Now I can turn my focus back to the season and do what I can do to help this team win as many games as we can.’ That’s what I decided to do.”
Judge has 19 games remaining to pass Maris on the home run list, starting with a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers that kicks off Friday night.