Sixty-two was, as much as it was anything else, a reprieve. A bunch of guys have hit 62 home runs in a season, but no one has ever gotten stuck on 61 for an entire week, and Aaron Judge might’ve been remembered for that. The gap between 60 and 61 had been even longer, but Judge had still looked locked in then: he was taking walks and making solid contact and generally being avoided by pitchers. This mini-drought, he was visibly pressing: swinging and missing at balls out of his wheelhouse, and puffing out his cheeks on putouts in just the slightest public acknowledgement that he was frustrated. It’d been six days since 61. It felt like much longer, the time dilated by all the live look-ins, all the promises that this guy or that guy needed to get on to get Judge another plate appearance in this inning or that game. It all added up to a hyperawareness. At all times, it was impossible to not know where Judge was, when he was coming up, and how many home runs he was stuck on. With two games left in the regular season, it was looking entirely plausible that he’d be the guy who got stuck.
Tuesday night in Texas, he got one. Sixty-two.
“Oh, it’s a big relief,” Judge said after the game. “I think everybody could probably sit down in their seats and watch the ballgame now.” I think, given that this was the biggest crowd in the young history of the Rangers’ ballpark, and if it didn’t necessarily look like a Yankees home crowd it sure sounded like one, they were probably not that interested in the rest of the ball game. (The Rangers won, 3-2.)
This is the closest that Judge, an extremely boring quote, ever admitted to feeling pressure, but it was there. The pressure of a chase—record or no, the attention is real, and impossible to ignore, and once an athlete starts thinking consciously about the thing they’re doing, it becomes that much harder to do—has broken some men, even those who survived it. Roger Maris’s hair was coming out in clumps by the end of his 1961 season. Mark McGwire took PEDs in 1998 not, he claimed, to hit home runs, but just to stay healthy and in the lineup every night. It’s a hard thing to do, hitting several dozen home runs in a year, and even harder when you’re trying to do it. It’s worth celebrating.
Just how much celebration Judge’s mark deserves is contentious. Did we really need to center the sports world around a guy trying to do something Sammy Sosa already did three times? Are we really calling it historic when someone moves into seventh place on a leaderboard? The “AL record” thing is obviously a euphemism that reflects a generation gap between the steroid scolds and those who remember how goddamned cool the summer of 1998 was.
I’ve said my piece on this—home runs are fun, and home run chases are fun, and I’m content to get caught up in the excitement of Judge’s chase without thinking too hard about what he is or isn’t chasing, and in all instances I’d rather be the person enjoying a dinger onslaught than the wised-up type proudly declaring that it’s not worth getting hyped over, and also I’m a filthy unrepentant Yankees fan so of course I’m enjoying this—but I can understand the other side. So that’s why, in the interest of brokering fan peace, I will attempt to compile A Non-Exhaustive List Of Things That Are Indisputably Good About Home Run No. 62 Upon Which We Can All Agree. Please add your own.
• Zack Hample didn’t catch it.
• We never have to see or hear from Roger Maris Jr. ever again.
• We all got to remember how much 1998 ruled.
• Bob “Ansel Adams” Nightengale was there to capture the moment for posterity. Hang this in Cooperstown, baby:
• The dreaded Tom Ley got to spend a whole week mocking me and asking me if I was “going to cry” if Judge didn’t hit it.
• No one had to pretend that Gerrit Cole breaking Ron Guidry’s Yankees single-season strikeout record was a thing we should care about.
• This weenie slapfight:
• People are talking about baseball! On SportsCenter and everything!
• God, just imagine if it had been, like, an Astros player.
• The Yankees bet against their best and most-loved player, and will either have to pay out the nose to keep him, or could very well lose him.
• It made my mom very happy.