Pop star: Stanton slugs, dominates headlines

December 22nd, 2017

It was a big year for a big man.

posted prolific power numbers en route to his first National League Most Valuable Player Award, becoming the first player in four years to top the 50-homer mark, and only the sixth in history to hit as many as 59 in a season.

Yet as enormous as his impact on the field was in 2017, he dominated the headlines once the season was over as well. Stanton was traded from the Marlins to the Yankees in a blockbuster deal leading up to the Winter Meetings, where he was officially introduced as New York's newest star.

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"It's going to be a great new chapter in my life and my career," Stanton said after slipping into his new No. 27 pinstriped jersey. "I think it's going to be a fun new dynamic, but at the same time, it's baseball. So I understand there will be some ups and downs, and I'll have to deal with that on a bigger scale. But it's the same game I played down in Miami -- just a bigger scale, brighter lights."

The lights in Miami were pointed directly at Stanton all season, but rather than wilting under the pressure, the 6-foot-6 slugger thrived in it, posting a season for the ages.

Stanton not only led the Majors with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs, but his .631 slugging percentage was tops in the game, too. Stanton also ranked second in the NL in OPS (1.007), runs scored (123) and total bases (377).

The number that stood out above all others, however? That would be 159, which was the number of games Stanton played, establishing a career high. Stanton had missed 131 games during the previous two seasons combined, reaching the 150 mark only once in his first seven years in the Majors.

Having led the NL with 37 homers in 2014 (matching his personal best to that point, initially set in 2012) and going deep 27 times in only 74 games in '15, Stanton's 27-homer 2016 season left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

"How last year finished, my down year, in general, I knew I had to bounce back," he said over the summer. "I knew I had to learn from all my big mistakes from last year and don't give up."

Stanton's first half was remarkably consistent, as he hit seven home runs in each of the season's first three months. With 21 home runs, 50 RBIs and an .895 OPS at the end of June, Stanton was well on his way to a stellar season. But it proved to be merely an appetizer, setting up a second half for the ages.

A key to that second half? Stanton closed off his batting stance in June, moving his front foot to cover more of the plate and keep him from chasing pitches out of the zone.

"It put him in a good position to hit," Marlins assistant hitting coach Frank Menechino said. "It put him in position to get out of the way and gave him confidence. Gave him something less to worry about. Before we did that, he was stepping in the bucket and we couldn't stop it. He tried to fix it on his own. He tried to do a couple of different things, this and that."

Stanton hit 12 homers while posting an eye-popping 1.138 OPS in July, then somehow outdid himself in August. The slugger launched 18 home runs, matching an MLB record that had stood for 80 years for the most ever in that month.

During that stretch, Stanton also set the Marlins' single-season home run record, passing the 42 hit by Gary Sheffield in 1996. All in all, Stanton slugged 38 homers after July 1, finishing the season with 59. Only nine other times in baseball history had a player hit that many home runs in a season, though nobody had done so since 2001, when Barry Bonds hit 73 and Sammy Sosa had 64.

The others? Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Mark McGwire.

"Those are all the guys I looked up to," Stanton said in late September. "I was able to see a bunch of them from the stands, and it's just crazy to be in that company. It doesn't sink in yet. It doesn't make sense really yet, but it's really cool. It's everything I've worked for, and it's something really cool."

Stanton's season earned him a multitude of awards, including the Hank Aaron Award and the Players Choice Award for Outstanding Player in the NL. Awards season came to a fitting end with his first NL MVP Award, making him the first member of the Marlins to earn that honor. He edged Cincinnati's Joey Votto by only two points, the fourth-closest vote in MVP history.

"It's almost like a start-from-scratch moment," Stanton said. "You remember the thoughts you had as a kid, and when times were good and bad as a pro and in the Minors and everything building up, and you just finally sit and give thanks for that. I'll have more time to think about everything that's gone on in the seasons over the years and to look forward to a new journey, too."

That new journey became the focal point as the offseason began. The Marlins were shopping Stanton to several teams, and although they came to agreements on trades with both the Giants and Cardinals, Stanton -- who had a full no-trade clause -- rejected both deals.

The Marlins ultimately traded Stanton to the Yankees, who were one of the teams to which he had said he would approve a trade. New York sent three players back to Miami, ending the seven-year South Florida run for the franchise's all-time leader in home runs (267) and RBIs (672).

Now it's on to New York, where Stanton joins a team that came one win away from the World Series last season. For Stanton, just getting to the postseason will be a stark change from what he's experienced to this point in his career.

"You always want to be in competitive games that mean something, and your performance means something to the team and the city," Stanton said. "It's going to be a fun challenge. I'm looking forward to it."