No. 60! Judge sixth all time to reach HR plateau

Slugger now one homer shy of Maris' AL record: 'It’s an incredible honor'

September 21st, 2022

NEW YORK -- This has been a remarkable season for Aaron Judge, a performance destined to be remembered among the most outstanding offensive campaigns in baseball history. And fans everywhere should “all rise” for this indisputable fact: The Yankees slugger isn’t close to done yet.

Judge hit his Major League-leading 60th home run on Tuesday, launching a solo shot to deep left-center field in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not just historic, the homer sparked the Yankees to a 9-8 walk-off win over the Pirates when Giancarlo Stanton crushed a grand slam into the left-field seats four batters later.

“I haven’t really been thinking about numbers or stats and stuff like that,” Judge said. “I’m going out there trying to help my team win. At the time, it was a solo shot in the ninth, still down by a couple of runs. But this team, we’ve always had a never-say-die attitude. We fight until the end.”

With his blast off Wil Crowe, Judge is within one big swing of Roger Maris’ 61-year-old American League record for home runs in a single season. Two of Maris’ sons, Kevin and Roger Jr., were on hand Tuesday, witnessing Judge become one of three Yankees to slug 60 homers in a single season.

Babe Ruth established a then-Major League record with 60 home runs in 1927, which stood until Maris surpassed “The Sultan of Swat” in 1961.

During that season, there was great fuss -- much of it sparked by then-commissioner Ford C. Frick -- about seeing Maris eclipse Ruth in 154 games, which was the schedule length during the Bambino’s career. Judge reached 60 homers in the Yanks’ 147th game, poised to surpass Maris and then some.

“When you talk about Ruth and Maris and Mantle and all these Yankees greats, you never imagine as a kid getting mentioned with them,” Judge said. “It’s an incredible honor and something I don’t take lightly at all. We’re not done.”

The milestone baseball was caught by 20-year-old Michael Kessler, an outfielder/pitcher at City College of New York. Kessler and three friends made a last-minute decision to attend the game, hoping to witness Judge’s 60th in person. They got much more; Kessler pounced on the ball and clutched it to his chest until security arrived.

“Judge means so much to the organization, especially this year,” said Kessler, who swapped No. 60 for autographed baseballs, a bat and an opportunity to take photos with Judge. “He’s just unbelievable. Just the way he is, he deserved to have the ball back. I have no second thoughts.”

The Yankees went into the bottom of the ninth trailing by four runs, and as such, Judge’s homer only trimmed the deficit to three. He seemed reluctant to accept a curtain call from what remained of a crowd of 40,157, though he eventually acquiesced at Boone’s urging -- in part to not distract the next hitter.

“I think there’s something to be said for igniting us in a game where we were down by four runs,” Boone said. “There was some kind of magical spark tonight in that inning. That was a special one.”

There was another delicious connection to Yankees lore wrapped inside the blast. Crowe, the pitcher now forever connected to Judge’s 60th, is a great-great nephew of Hall of Famer Red Ruffing, who won six World Series with the Yankees in the 1930s and ‘40s. Crowe even toured Monument Park before the game, inspecting Ruffing’s plaque. He said that he was intent on challenging Judge.

“I felt like I wanted to go after him. He’s the best hitter in baseball right now,” Crowe said. “I can’t put him on; I have to go after him. I was trying to make my pitch, but it was right down the middle.”

Judge, 30, has hit three homers in his past two games and five in his previous six. He now leads the AL in batting average (.316), homers (60) and RBIs (128), vying for the Majors’ first Triple Crown since the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera paced the Junior Circuit in all three categories in 2012.

“He’s zoned in, and he has plenty of at-bats to go,” Stanton said. “When you’re doing something like this, you don’t sit in the moment. It’s like, ‘What can we do next?’ The more he does, the more we’re going to win and the more he’s going to achieve history.”

Judge is just the sixth Major League player (ninth time) to hit at least 60 home runs in a single season, a group that includes Barry Bonds (73 in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998; 65 in ‘99), Sammy Sosa (66 in ’98; 64 in ’01; 63 in ‘99), Maris (61 in ’61) and Ruth (60 in ’27).

Most HR in a season, MLB history -- with totals through 147 team games:

2001 Barry Bonds: 73 -- 64
1998 Mark McGwire: 70 -- 62
2022 Aaron Judge: 66 (current pace) -- 60
1998 Sammy Sosa: 66 -- 58
1999 Mark McGwire: 65 -- 56
2001 Sammy Sosa: 64 -- 55
1999 Sammy Sosa: 63 -- 59
1961 Roger Maris: 61 -- 56
1927 Babe Ruth: 60 -- 54

“The thing is, you would never know,” Anthony Rizzo said. “You would not know he’s walking around with 60 home runs under his belt. He just comes in and does his work, goes about his business. That’s the beauty of him.”

It is notable that Judge has reached 60 in a season when average home run production has been far below that level. The Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber hit his 40th home run on Tuesday, which ranks second in the Majors.

Before Judge this season, no player had completed a calendar day with a lead of 20 or more homers over his closest competition since Ruth led Jim Bottomley and Hack Wilson by 23 homers on the last day of the 1928 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“It’s unbelievable -- 60 to 40,” Boone said. “When I was playing, guys were routinely hitting in the 50s and 40s, bunched up in there. It ain’t happening now.”

Boone refuses to put limitations on his best player; sure, Bonds’ total is a long shot here in late September, but it’s not impossible. Judge said that his mission is not yet accomplished, and it has nothing to do with individual achievements.

“To get a chance to play baseball at Yankee Stadium, in a packed house for a first-place team, that’s what you dream about,” Judge said. “I love every second of it. I’m trying to enjoy it all and soak it all in, but I know I’ve still got a job to do out in the field, every single day. I’ve just got to keep my head down, keep preparing and stay mentally focused.”