Who Are We to “Judge” Home Runs?

At the Million Man March in 1995, Minister Louis Farrakhan — whom the late Rush Limbaugh mockingly referred to as "Calypso Louie" — went into a rambling discourse about the number 19 and its putative influence on so many things (about the only respect in which it is relevant is that the phases of the moon return to the same days of the month every 19 years, which forms the basis for the Jewish calendar and indirectly, for the Christian liturgical calendar, a fact that Minister Farrakhan conveniently omitted).

A dozen years later, a film entitled The Number 23 hit the theaters, starring Jim Carrey, in which his character, suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, sees the number everywhere.

Well move over, 19 and 23. Your place has been upstaged by the number 62 in the annals of pop-culture numerology.

As this is written, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge has 13 home runs through 38 games.

This means that Judge is "on pace" — a term that has become proverbial in baseball — to hit 55 home runs this season, rounded off to the nearest home run, a total that leaves him seven shy of what many insist on recognizing as the "real" home run record, the 62 that Judge himself hit last season, because all of the higher single-season home run totals than that were hit during the Condoned Steroids Use Era — which is exactly what it was.

As the 2023 baseball season unfolds, look for the self-declared defenders of morality to keep a continuous count of Judge's pursuit of the mythical record of 62 home runs in a season — just as they insisted than an "asterisk" be appended to Roger Maris' 61 home runs of 1961, which was one more than Babe Ruth's 60 of 1927, because Maris played eight more games than Ruth.

But at least Judge has already broken the record that what H.L. Mencken called the "booboisie" claim actually exists.

Another issue that clouded the Ruth-vs.-Maris debate was that Ruth never got to face the best pitchers of his time because African-Americans weren't allowed to play in the major leagues until 1947 — and if Kenesaw Mountain Landis had his way, the likes of Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio probably wouldn't have gotten to play either.

Race also beclouds the steroid debate — in that Barry Bonds, who is African-American, hit 73 home runs in 2001 (generally taken to be the last year of the Condoned Steroids Use Era), the same year in which Sammy Sosa, a black Dominican, hit 64 (Mark McGwire hit 70 homers in 1998 and 65 in 1999).

All this at a time when baseball is losing black players at an alarming rate: in 1972, MLB as a whole was 19% black, and still 18% as recently as 1991. But now, African-Americans make up only 6% of major league rosters. By contrast, the last American-born white player to appear in an NBA All-Star Game was Kevin Love — in 2017.

It would appear that, with all due apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis, we have a whole lotta self-sortin' goin' on, with black players leaving baseball in droves and white players — at least American-born white players anyway — leaving basketball in droves.

Aren't blue states and red states bad enough? Now we have to have blue sports and red sports?

Against this backdrop, it is all too fitting that there is no general agreement over what "race" Aaron Judge belongs to.

But at least just about everyone will agree that if he ends up hitting 63 or more home runs this year, he will have "broken his own record."

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