Sports | October 5, 2022 1:08 pm

“Clean” or Not, Aaron Judge Is the Home Run King. So Is Barry Bonds.

Definitively calling any pro baseball player "clean" at this point is just silly

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees hits his 62nd home run.
Aaron Judge's reign as the AL home run king has just begun.
Ron Jenkins/Getty

Moments after New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge made baseball history on Tuesday when he slammed his 62nd home run of the year to set a single-season American League record, the son of former record-holder Roger Maris took to Twitter to congratulate the new HR king.

“Congratulations to Aaron Judge and his family on Aaron’s historic home run number 62! It has definitely been a baseball season to remember. You are all class and someone who should be revered. For the MAJORITY of the fans, we can now celebrate a new CLEAN HOME RUN KING!!” he wrote. “Aaron Judge is the new CLEAN HOME RUN KING!! All the young kids who watched Aaron Judge set the single-season record for home runs … you finally have someone to revere! No more trying to explain to you how someone could possibly hit 73 home runs.”

Clearly, Roger Maris Jr. was making reference to Barry Bonds, who set the all-time single-season record for home runs with 73 in 2001, and, to a lesser extent, Mark McGwire (70, 65), and Sammy Sosa (66, 64, 63) who both also hit more home runs in a season than Maris and Judge.

The difference, of course, is that Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all hit 63 home runs or more during the height of the so-called “steroids era” and all three players have more or less been proven or admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. As a result, all three have been denied entry into the Hall of Fame, which is a complete sham. As is the idea that Judge should be hailed as the “clean home run king.”

At this point, there is zero evidence or cause to believe that Judge used steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs…other than the fact that he has remained completely healthy (career high in at-bats) for the first time in years and has already hit more than 20 home runs than he mashed last year. Twenty-three more to be exact. Guess how many more home runs Bonds hit in ’01 than he did the season before? Twenty-four.

Obviously, correlation does not prove causation by any means and there’s no proof to believe that Judge is using anything extra to help him crush taters just because it seems pretty clear that Bonds did other than that they are/were both major league baseball players with every incentive to bash as many home runs as possible. But, if you think about it, that’s probably more than enough not to draw any distinction between the two given how prevalent the use of performance-enhancing drugs was and likely continues to be, albeit less blatantly, in MLB.

We don’t know Judge is guilty of anything and there’s no reason to believe he is. But, given what we know about MLB players in general and the game’s long ties to steroid use, there’s also no reason to label him as the “clean home run king” because there’s no way to know if he really is. And, there’s really no reason to care either way as baseball’s records could all have asterisks attached to them, including Maris’s. (His home run mark was set in a season that extended eight games beyond the schedule that previous record-holder Babe Ruth’s Yankees had played.)

Instead of asterisks, Bob Costas suggested the idea of an introductory page at the beginning of baseball’s official record book to The New York Times. It would read something like: “Baseball has the longest and richest history of any American sport. Over time, the game has gone through many changes, among them segregated, integrated, entirely day ball, mostly night ball, 16 teams and now 30 teams, train travel, cross-country air travel, higher mound, lower mound, reliance on relief pitchers, analytics, and significant among them the so-called steroids era in which many performances, especially by power hitters, were disproportionate to any other era in baseball history. Fans may want to take into account all those facts when considering the records reflected in the pages that follow.”

Or, put more succinctly when it comes to Judge and Bonds:

Nuff said.