Tie Goes To The Smoker
11:23 AM EDT on October 4, 2022
Aaron Judge is still stuck in his home run drought, and the pressure for him to slug at least one more is getting increasingly urgent. On Monday night in Texas, in front of the biggest weeknight crowd the Rangers have drawn all year, the American League's larger-than-life history-chaser went 1-for-4, with the lone hit an excuse-me single that didn't even register on the exit velocity tracker.
A last chance for another Judge at-bat in this Yankees win was foiled by a pop-out from the No. 9 hitter, Marwin Gonzalez, in the top of the ninth, and now, with a doubleheader today and the regular season finale on Wednesday, he only has a dozen or so chances left to break the current deadlock with Roger Maris and hit dinger 62. You can't count him out yet, but with only one home run in his last 12 games, the rarely discussed possibility of a tie between the two Yankees, 61 years apart, is looking more and more plausible.
I don't need to tell you that ties in sports are deeply unsatisfying, especially in baseball. That's why they invented extra innings! But in this particular case—a legendary record that, for all Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire did, still holds plenty of meaning for plenty of fans—a tangible on-field competition to decide a clear winner is impossible. Judge and Maris would have each played in 162-game seasons and hit 61 home runs.
But I have a solution.
Are you sitting down? OK, good, because first I have some bad news: Smoking cigarettes is terrible for your health, short- and long-term. It can give you cancer in your lungs, disease in your gums, awful hacking coughs, shortness of breath, painful headaches, and pretty much any other unpleasant symptom you can imagine. There is no more efficient way to poison your own body.
Aaron Judge doesn't need to worry about that. As of this moment, Judge is probably one of the healthiest humans to have ever walked this Earth. Over the course of his MLB career, not only has he been paid large amounts of money simply to be in peak physical and mental baseball-hitting condition, but when he has gotten injured, he's had access to the best medical care imaginable. And even as he's playing every day, Judge can rely on a whole roster of physicians, dieticians, massage therapists, and mental health professionals ready to assist his needs. Here he is talking about his pregame diet in an interview from early in his career:
The meals differ every day, but the idea of eating clean and healthy is the same. I’m a big smoothie guy. Before a game I don’t like to load up on a big pasta dinner like some guys do. That kind of weighs on me, so I like to get a bunch of different fruits and some spinach, some protein, and almond butter, and I’ll put it all in a smoothie and drink a big one, because it’ll fill me up, but it won’t sit in my stomach too heavy.
If you offered the average Major League player from 1961 a smoothie like that, he'd probably call you a slur you'd never heard before. Certainly, Judge's lifestyle would be alien to Roger Maris during that season. Smoking was so much a part of Maris's image that, after Mark McGwire admitted to his own PED use, his son Richard said, "The only thing Dad was on was unfiltered Camel cigarettes." By 1961, he was up to three packs a day.
He even endorsed them, appearing in an ad that would look just as bizarre in today's baseball world as a sports psychologist would look at the Polo Grounds.
This useless habit couldn't have helped Maris's quality of life; he died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 51. But, not unlike how Dock Ellis's LSD no-hitter is the most impressive of them all, I can't help but be a little awed that a record he set while regularly lighting up in the clubhouse still remains so hard to break today. Of course, Maris was aided by much of his competition taking part in the same unhealthy practices, but the fact that nobody else in baseball could top his mark without artificially bulking up, while he himself was engaged in a project to weaken his own body, is a testament to his achievement. If he and Judge both stay at 61, Maris deserves the advantage.