Baseball's magical numbers might be losing their luster | Opinion

·4 min read

Aug. 14—For those who grew up in the 1980s or anytime before, baseball's magical numbers were always a hot topic.

When numbers such as 60, 61, 714, 755, 56 and .406 were brought up, baseball fans knew exactly the topic.

Two numbers of today — most notably 73 and 762 — just don't hold the luster of yesteryear. That's because Barry Bonds — one of the most polarizing athletes of all time — is the current single-season (73) and all-time home-run champion (762).

When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single-season mark of 60 homers in 1961, it was a polarizing chase — mostly because Ruth was so beloved. He was so beloved that then-commissioner of baseball Ford Frick made it so there was mention in the record book of games played that season. Maris' season was 162 games, compared to Ruth's 154-game season in 1927, when he hit 60.

Some say Frick placed an asterisk next to Maris' 61-home run season, but Phil Pepe's book "1961: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase" disputes that.

Ruth finished his career with 714 career home runs, a record that stood until 1974, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th. It was another polarizing moment as Aaron received death threats and hate mail during his chase.

Said Aaron in his biography, "I Had a Hammer": "I kept feeling more and more strongly that I had to break the record not only for myself and for Jackie Robinson and for black people, but also to strike back at the vicious little people who wanted to keep me from doing it. All that hatred left a deep scar on me."

Aaron finished his career with 755 homers, and was later passed by Bonds in 2007. It was another polarizing moment as performance enhancing drug rumors followed Bonds late in his career — something the slugger denies.

Some marks remain untouched to this day. Many believe Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak is the gold standard in the baseball record book. The closest to that mark in the modern era was Pete Rose's 44-game mark in 1978.

Locally, catcher Sandy Alomar's streak of hitting safely in 30 straight games in 1997 is the longest in Cleveland baseball history since Napoleon Lajoie's 31-game streak for the Naps in 1906.

Then there is .406, the batting average mark by the Red Sox's Ted Williams in 1941. He's the last player in MLB history to hit .400 for an entire season.

Tony Gwynn in 1994 (.394) and George Brett in 1980 (.390) are the players who have come the closest since 1941.

Those records are cherished but they don't compare to the long ball. Which brings us to current day.

The Yankees' Aaron Judge is all smiles after his walk-off home run against the Astros on June 26. (Noah K. Murray ??

The Yankees' Aaron Judge is on a torrid home-run pace this season. He entered this weekend with 46 home runs in just 113 games. Here is the list of the most home runs at that point in a season:

—Bonds in 2001 (48)

—Ruth in 1921 and Judge in 2022 (46)

—Mark McGwire in 1998 (45)

The summer of 1998 produced an epic race between the Cardinals' McGwire and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa to break Maris' then-single season mark of 61.

McGwire got there first, Sosa second. McGwire finished that season with 70, Sosa 66. Media attention was non-stop, and many said and wrote that home-run race saved baseball from the dark days of 1994, when a labor dispute cancelled the World Series that year.

Nearing 25 years later, the McGwire-Sosa season remains marred by rumors of PEDs.

With Judge, there are no rumors — just impressive power from a large man (6-foot-7, 282 pounds). Judge is likable. He has a huge smile, hits the ball a long way and seems to have the makeup to make a run at 73 home runs.

The question is, though, will fans care as they did in the good ole' days?

The likes of Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio and Aaron were large-than-life sports figures — almost god-like. Their status remains that way to this day. Plus, for the most part, games weren't televised and the only testimonial to stand on were newspaper accounts.

It's the thought of those baseball gods in our imagination that was almost as good as the real thing.

Unfortunately, the thought of Judge chasing Bonds for home-run immortality doesn't conjure up memories of Ruth and Aaron. And it probably never will.