Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run of the season last night in the Yankee stadium. Let me say that again, Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run of the season. This feat seems to be passing us by unnoticed, not much fanfare, not much over-the-top media attention. Judge did it in 147 games; it took Babe Ruth 154 games, and Roger Maris 158 to hit 60 home runs.
No other sport compares superstars of different eras like baseball. Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron; Willie Mays to Mike Trout; Mickey Mantle to Aaron Judge. And the source of this comparison is the record book, every game, every inning, every at bat that has ever been played in MLB history has been chronicled in the record books and is used to compare players from eras many decades apart. And when the record books are tainted, the sport becomes tainted.
The summer of 2022 should go down in history of baseball as one of the great seasons of all-time, but it is passing us by barely noticed because three people decided to cheat a little over 20 years ago and have completed tainted the record books and baseball history. We lived through the charade of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, and Barry Bonds in 2001, so we are not fully appreciating the true greatness that is on display every night wearing Yankee pinstripes. Aaron Judge is doing something that many have tried, and none have legitimately been able to do. We are not enjoying the season as much as we should, we are not swept away in this home run chase like we had been in 1998 because the record books tell a different, albeit a false story.
As Bob Costas said about McGwire and Sosa, “we know that those records and some of those performances are inauthentic”, but they’re inauthenticity has not only tainted Major League Baseball’s record books, they have deprived Aaron Judge of his rightful place in MLB history, as they have done the last 24 years to Roger Maris. Nothing has been done to correct this. Lance Armstrong had every single one of his seven Tour de France victories stripped from him for doing the exact same thing that Bonds, McGwire and Sosa we’re doing in the years they hit 60+ home runs. Ben Johnson had his 1988 Olympic record breaking 100 meeting gold-medal stripped from him for using performance-enhancing drugs like those three players were doing in their record setting years.
Major League Baseball knows those seasons were fraudulent. If their numbers were legitimate, then why are none of these players with Hall of Fame statistics in the Hall of Fame? Major league baseball doesn’t want to remove the names of Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa from the record books because that would be an admission that those seasons were fraudulent which could open the floodgates of lawsuits like Lance Armstrong had to deal with. But by failing to correct the record books, they are forcing the rest of us to go along with their fraud and pretend that someone is the legitimate single-season home run king when he is not. By not stripping them of their fraudulent records, Major League Baseball is stripping the rightful person of his place in baseball history. Fans are forced to compare legitimate accomplishments like we are witnessing with Aaron Judge this season to illegitimate ones that were a result of cheating. We are being forced to pretend that the inauthentic is actually authentic.
This begs the question, who would want to own a record if they knew in their heart that the record was inauthentic. Who wants to sit on a throne of lies. Who wants to break a cherished sports record illegitimately? Where is the accomplishment in that? Every time you see your name in the record book, you know you cheated, you know your name is there fraudulently. I would rather be second place legitimately, than first place illegitimately. It is a perfect example of people who are more concerned about how others view them then how they view themselves. If you know your accomplishments are inauthentic, it shouldn’t matter that you’re able to fool the outside world. It doesn’t make any sense. You discover more about yourself by looking in a mirror than through a window.
But the bigger question is why would they cheat like this? Were they so selfish that they would put themselves above the game? If you think about how much Major League Baseball had done for Bonds, McGwire and Sosa before they started using PEDs – they became richer and more famous beyond their wildest dreams, and then out of pure greed and selfishness, they all have permanently marred the history of the sport. Instead of giving back to the sport that had given them so much, they have irreparably harmed the sport because they wanted more than they rightfully deserved from the game. And in the process, they are stripping a more deserving player of his rightful place in history.
In order for me to enjoy the season Aaron Judge is having accurately, giving it its proper justice, I’ve had to pretend that MLB baseball did not exist from 1998-2004. The crime of this whole situation is that if Aaron Judge happens to get a hold of two more pitches and knock them out of the park, he will not be crowned the all-time single-season home run champion. We have to pretend that someone else is while Aaron Judge gets the consolation prize of being the AL home run champion. Even Aaron Judge is forced to pretend that. He recently said, “73[Bonds’ total] is the record in my book.”
We are forced to pretend that the inauthentic is actually authentic all the time these days. Very little is real or true, it’s all a façade; it’s all about the narrative. If you look at American politics, it is all about capturing the narrative. Very little is about the actual truth. Politicians spin every story in their direction; they twist and turn and contort the facts so they can squeeze them into their self-serving narratives. It goes on all the time. That’s the game that’s played. But when we become fixated on the narrative, we fail to really appreciate true greatness when it’s standing right in front of us. Over 22,000 people have played major league baseball; There have been 147 Major league baseball seasons dating back to 1876, and only three players have legitimately hit 60 home runs in a season, and one of those seasons is this one, 2022. And Aaron Judge is poised to hit at least 62 legitimate home runs before the end of the season, more than anyone in 147 years of Major League Baseball, and we need to appreciate true greatness when it is happening as opposed to honoring stolen valor.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.