Barry Bonds hit the most home runs in a single-season in 2001, but Aaron Judge is Major League Baseball’s true, single-season home run king.
The hot-button debate over the legitimacy of Bonds’ home run totals continues to rage on, as Roger Maris Jr. took to Twitter Tuesday night to call Judge the ‘clean home run king.’
Judge set a new American League home run record Tuesday night, hitting his 62nd home run, passing Roger Maris’ longstanding single-season record.
This column doesn’t relate to Bonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy. In fact, if I had a vote, I would now vote Bonds in to the Hall of the Fame. If David Ortiz, who failed a drug test, can get in, why shouldn’t other known performance enhancing drug users? It’s hypocritical to let some in, but not all.
Over the summer, I read the 2006 book, Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports, chronicling Barry Bonds’ usage of performance enhancing drugs.
According to the book, Bonds had played it clean for the first 13 years of his career, but was inspired to one-up Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, after watching their herculean efforts in the summer of 1998.
Had Bonds retired after 1998, his age-33 season, he would already be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Bonds, a three-time National League MVP and eight-time Gold Glove award winner at the time, was a five-tool player. He couldn’t understand the media’s obsession with McGwire and Sosa, when he was doing more than just hitting home runs himself.
Through the first 13 years of his career, Bonds had posted three seasons where he hit 40 or more home runs. After he allegedly began using performance enhancing drugs, he would hit 73 home runs in 2001.
The book alleges that he used a number of performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone, ‘the cream and the clear,’ insulin, testosterone decanoate, stanozolol, Clomid, Deca-Durabolin, norbolethone and trenbolone.
Bonds was able to transform himself from a great hitter into the most dominant hitter baseball had ever seen… but he didn’t do it legally. He cheated.
It’s recently become trendy to want to turn a blind eye to the cheating that was going on in the 1990s and 2000s in professional sports. People seem to be nostalgic about the good old days of ‘chicks dig the long ball.’ Baseball was a bigger cultural force and the games were exciting. Baseball fans miss that.
The steroid era is often credited for resurrecting the sport after the 1994 strike. But the steroid era also contributed to the sport’s decline in popularity.
Remember the mess that the steroid era created? Remember when more teenagers began using steroids, and young men like Rob Garibaldi and Taylor Hooton committed suicide after taking the drugs in hopes of becoming big league players? The parents of both Garibaldi and Hooton testified in front of congress that their sons’ depression and suicide was caused by their usage of performance enhancing drugs.
Remember when the US government got involved and players had to testify in front of congress? Steroids became a blackeye on Major League Baseball.
There’s a reason why performance-enhancing drugs are banned from professional sports. Though the league had not implemented league-wide testing until 2003, Major League Baseball banned PED’s in 1991.
While the drugs cannot help you make contact with a 99-mph fastball, the drugs do help with recovery and bulking up. Building muscle mass helps with hitting home runs.
During the steroid era, a number of MLB players started to resemble body builders and professional wrestlers. Anybody that was using had an unfair advantage over the players who kept it clean, who had to recover from injury the natural way and couldn’t keep up with the steroid guys in the gym.
It seems as if the further we have moved away from the steroid era, the more nostalgia clouds our judgement.
20 years from now, are people going to be nostalgic about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal? Fans were outraged three years ago when the Astros’ cheating ways came to light. The Astros’ players have had to wear it since.
Former MLB pitcher Mike Bolsinger filed a lawsuit against the Astros, claiming that the Astros altered his career path. In a 2017 game, Bolsinger only recorded one out, giving up four hits and a home run.
“I don’t know if I’ve had a worse outing in my professional career,” Bolsinger said. “I remember saying, ‘It was like they knew what I was throwing. They’re laying off pitches they weren’t laying off before. It’s like they knew what was coming.’ That was the thought in my head. I felt like I didn’t have a chance.”
After that game, Bolsinger was sent down to the minors, and never would play another Major League game in his career.
Cheating alter careers. There had to be dozens of stories like Bolsinger’s during the steroid era of pitchers and hitters that kept it clean, but their career played out in a way in which it would not have, had it not been for cheaters.
Meanwhile, players that used performance enhancing drugs were rewarded with some of the richest contracts in baseball at the time. And players like Fred McGriff, who also played it clean, have still been kept out of the Hall of Fame.
I shouldn’t have to write nearly 1,000 words about why cheating is wrong and why cheating taints the legitimacy of records.
Aaron Judge posted one of the most incredible single seasons in baseball history in 2022, even after MLB made changes to its baseball, deadening the ball before the season. As home runs decreased league-wide, Judge passed Roger Maris.
In an era in which pitching has dominated and batting averages have collectively dropped (take a look at ERA’s and batting averages from 20 years ago and compare them to now), Judge set a new American League home run record, while leading the AL in RBI and likely finishing in second in the AL in batting average. He nearly won baseball’s second Triple Crown since 1967, while hitting 62 home runs. And Judge did it all, entirely clean, without any link to performance enhancing drugs.
Barry Bonds may have hit more home runs, but Aaron Judge is the true, single-season home run king.