In all likelihood, at some point in the next few weeks Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins will bash his 60th home run of the 2017 season. It’s not out of the question that he will find time to bash two more and surpass the 61 dingers Roger Maris famously hit in 1961, when he broke Babe Ruth’s longstanding record for homers in a season. If that happens, it will be an amazing achievement.
In any context, 60 is an extremely impressive number of taters to mash in a single season; in all Major League Baseball’s long history it’s only been done eight times, and not once since 2001. It’s especially remarkable in 2017: In the past 10 years only two other MLB players have crushed as many dongs (54) as Stanton already has hit this season with 19 games left to go. He punishes the vile sphere with breathtaking violence. His at-bats are events. He is the premier powerful home run slugger in baseball, right now, by miles, and that is a hell of a thing to be.
Whether this will make him the True Home Run King has been a point of a small amount of contention in the latter half of this season, as Stanton trucked his way toward 60 and became along the way—through at least a little fault of his own—one last cudgel for PED crusaders, in their campaign to eradicate all traces of baseball’s steroid era. The thinking, such as it is, goes like this: Baseball is clean now, like it was in Maris’s day; Stanton’s 62nd homer, if it arrives, will connect these two eras, 56 years apart, in the true, untainted, metaphysical continuity of baseball, passing over the steroid era like a bridge passing neatly over a swamp and leaving it definitively behind.
It’s a nice fantasy, the mighty slugger reconnecting the game to its idealized history through the transformative power of dingers. Ironically, it shares a framework with the rosy glow that surrounded McGwire and Sammy Sosa back in 1998, when baseball—fans, the press, central baseball, owners—saw fit to ignore their Rob Liefeld physiques and lionize them for restoring a baseball continuity marred by the 1994-95 strike. Not incidentally, both of these frameworks pose the players as the villains in morality plays, and baseball—fans, the press, central baseball, owners—as victims if not heroes, if only by implication. As it often does, nostalgia serves here mainly to put the blame for an unpleasant thing on someone other than the nostalgic.
The home run record, like any other, always has been the product of certain circumstances. Ruth didn’t hit his 60 until after the dead-ball era, after all, and the color barrier protected him from having to face some of the best pitchers of his day. Maris, who smacked his 61 against pitching thinned out by expansion in a season eight games longer than Ruth needed to hit 60, faced critics in his day who wanted to put an asterisk next to his accomplishment. Who knows what qualifiers the sports moralists of tomorrow will attach to today’s juiced ball, or whatever anybody will come to learn about Stanton’s workout habits or dietary practices? The bridge from baseball’s untainted present to its untainted past is a bridge from nowhere to nowhere.
Let’s clear it up in advance, this time. It’s easier than ever before. Will 62 homers make Giancarlo Stanton the True Home Run King of Baseball? Hell the hell no it will not. Barry Bonds is the True Home Run King of Baseball. The only standard that makes sense is math, and 73 > 62, now and forever.