As Mark McGwire hit his shortest home run of the 1998 season, No. 62, barely over the left-field wall at old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, after the “new” single-season home-run king trotted around first-base and was given a high five by Mark Grace, who would’ve made the rest of the infield look childish to not give the same sportsman’s gesture, the Maris family looked proudly on from the front row outside the Cardinals’ dugout. Roger’s then-37-year record had been broken.
The fading spectacle of baseball may have been resurrected by McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run chase, with the Maris family at the nucleus to see which slugger later linked with performance-enhancing drugs would best Roger’s 61 home-run season in 1961. McGwire made sure to hug his bat-boy son before getting swarmed by teammates. After the iconic several-second embrace with Sosa, he hopped into the stands to embrace the Maris family in the perfect combination of baseball’s past and present. The all-time moment is tainted because of steroids. And after Aaron Judge hit No. 61 on Wednesday against Toronto, the younger Maris wants another chance at seeing someone break his father’s record. Roger Maris Jr. had zero problems Wednesday stomping on McGwire’s legacy by stating Judge will be the all-time home run king if he hits one more longball in the Yankees’ final seven games of the season.
“He’s clean, he’s a Yankee, he plays the game the right way and I think it gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered for hitting 62 home runs and not just a guy who did it in the American League,” Maris Jr. said Wednesday. “He should be revered for being the actual single-season home-run champ. That’s really who he is if he hits 62. I think that’s what needs to happen. I think (the MLB) needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something.”
The three single-season efforts now ahead of Judge in MLB history are all connected to steroids, with Barry Bonds’ 73 home-run season in 2001 still officially standing as the sport’s best with a huge asterisk. Judge has yet to be connected with any performance-enhancing drug. Being 6-foot-7, 280 pounds should generate more than enough power to smack baseballs out of stadiums at will. Of the trio currently besting Judge’s 61, McGwire is the only one to publicly admit taking steroids with Bonds and Sosa just being immeasurably implied, to the point where they both may have lied about it under oath.
Before Judge, the Maris family only handed the mantle, pun intended, over to McGwire, parading around publicly about how nice it was to see Roger’s record fall into the hands of someone like good ol’ Mark. It’s likely some brand of sour grapes for Roger Jr. that this is attempt No. 2 at handing over his dad’s holy grail. I’d also like to believe the Maris’ estate would welcome a player from any other team — maybe even someone in Boston — to the home-run pedestal made 61 years ago. There’s no doubt keeping the American League record, and the Maris’ revisionist history of the all-time best mark, in the Bronx makes the eventual transition easier because there’s no shot Judge doesn’t get at least one more homer over the next week-plus.
Roger Maris Jr. knows his dad’s record is about to become toast for the final time, as his team, division, and AL records will fall. And he can claim his opinion, too, on McGwire not being the first to break it 24 years ago. The son of the soon-to-be-former-American-League-home-run king — quite the niche title — can’t pretend that his belief of Judge being the rightful heir has been lifelong.
An interview to say how much his dad’s legacy is predicated on the great parts of baseball and how that doesn’t mix with McGwire’s cheating is needed. The Maris’ approach to scrubbing away 1998 to open a path for Judge is a self-own. It nitpicks history instead of telling the full tale. Propping up Judge is incredibly easy and wouldn’t be sidetracked by dissing McGwire, who’s been vilified from baseball anyway. Don’t fall for the heroics coming from the Maris camp as some brand-new thing. We’ve seen it before and they willingly batted McGwire on the back while he injected himself with steroids.