TORONTO -- Once Aaron Judge connected for his 61st home run of the season, Roger Maris Jr. had little time to react. The ball rocketed over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre in just 3.8 seconds, scarcely enough time for the son of the legendary Yankees slugger to recognize what had happened, then embrace Patty Judge in a congratulatory hug.
But Maris has had plenty of time to think, over the past several years and -- most recently -- a nine-days-and-counting trip that has brought him across an international border. He understands that baseball’s record books do not agree, but should Judge hit a 62nd homer this season, the Maris family will consider that to be the single-season home run record.
“He’s clean, he’s a Yankee, he plays the game the right way,” Maris said of Judge. “It gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered for hitting 62 home runs, not just as a guy who did it in the American League. He should be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ. That’s really who he is, and if he hits 62, I think that’s what needs to happen.”
In recognition of their father’s incredible 1961 season, in which Maris hit 61 home runs to eclipse Babe Ruth’s then-single-season mark of 60 roundtrippers, Maris and other family members were present at Yankee Stadium for the previous homestand.
Judge hit his 60th homer on Sept. 20 off the Pirates’ Wil Crowe, sparking a five-run ninth-inning rally that was capped by Giancarlo Stanton’s game-winning grand slam. Maris traveled with the club to Toronto after the homestand, seated next to Judge’s mother for all three games, and witnessing Judge’s two-run blow off Tim Mayza in the seventh inning on Wednesday.
“It was a lot of fun getting to know her, getting to know a little bit about the family,” Maris said. “You can see why Aaron carries himself the way he does. You can see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The family seems very grounded.”
Members of the Maris family opted not to meet Judge until after the 61st homer, reasoning that their presence in the clubhouse or on the field could have created an unwelcome distraction, especially while the Yankees were still fighting for a playoff spot. Instead, they opted to watch from Hal Steinbrenner’s suite.
Maris and Judge finally met in a hallway outside the visitors’ clubhouse after Wednesday’s game, with Maris remarking: “Why did you wait so long?” Maris said he plans to travel back to New York so he can be present if and when Judge hits No. 62.
“I’ll keep most of [the conversation] between us,” Judge said. “I really thanked him and told him what an honor it was, getting a chance to be associated with his father. You dream about things like that. And for him to come to all the home games, come down here to Toronto and support and be there, this definitely means a lot.”
Maris passed away in 1985; in the years since, his late wife, Patricia, and their children have done much to keep the two-time AL MVP’s legacy in the public consciousness.
Their presence was an enduring storyline during the 1998 home run chase involving the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa, but subsequent revelations of performance-enhancing drug use have soured the Maris family’s take.
Barry Bonds holds the Major League record for home runs in a single season with 73 (2001), followed by McGwire at 70 (1998) and Sosa at 66 (’98). Asked if he considers Bonds and McGwire to be illegitimate, Maris replied: “I do. And I think most people do.”
For what it’s worth, Judge has said he considers Bonds’ 73 to be the true record.
“[Dad] would be very proud of Aaron, because of the way he carries himself,” Maris said. “The way he comes to the ballpark every day, mentally prepared, physically prepared. He’s all about doing the team thing, all about winning. He’s all about focusing on winning a championship and bringing a world championship to New York and put No. 28 up on the wall.”