The “Real” Home Run King

There are many questions that do not have definitive answers. In cases such as those we can all form our own opinions based on our own perspectives, feelings, and prejudices and we’ll often disagree, and that’s cool. Discussions that arise from situations like that are what make it fun to talk about baseball.

There are, however, questions that do have definitive, factual answers. It’s when we as humans (or in this case, we as baseball fans) become intellectually lazy and repeatedly ask those questions is when we’re adding nothing to the discourse. That, if you’re an angry sports radio caller or social media sh!t poster is one thing – but if you’re a paid professional to know better, you’re just a fraud.

To wit:

The question we’ve already heard ad nauseam, and will hear more and more often as the season progresses (because if mainstream media is anything, it’s predictable) as Aaron Judge continues to hit two irons into the stands, is “Who is the real single-season home run record holder?” If you’re coming in late to the discussion, that’s code for “Who hit the most home runs in a season without using PEDs?”

Here’s the deal: A record is literally that – a record of what happened. It’s an account or list of events and facts. Now that we’re clear on that…

Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, which is more than any player has ever hit in a single season. Therefore, Barry Bonds is the single-season home run record holder. By the power of Greg Anderson’s pitiable omerta, I command you to stop asking who the “real” home run record holder is.

Now that I’ve dropped that mic, if you want to add your own context or nuance to expand the discussion, that’s cool. But let’s be 100 percent clear that’s a different conversation than who the record holder is.

If you want to point out that Roger Maris didn’t benefit from PEDs, that’s fair.

If you want to note that Babe Ruth didn’t play in a 162-game season in 1927 and that he hit more long balls than every other team in the AL in ’27, that’s fine.

If you appreciate that Judge is the only one in the chat who faced sliders and changeups in the 90s on a nightly basis, and rarely faced the same pitcher more than twice in a game, I’m with you.

Of course, I could point out that a young (clean) Bonds hitting against pitchers who threw 86 mph in an expansion year with the right field wall 295’ away from home plate would have hit far more than 61 home runs.

I could mention that Ruth didn’t have to face pitchers like Bill Foster, Bullet Rogan, and Satchel Paige in 1927, and if Bonds got hacks against the likes of Firpo Marberry, General Crowder and Win Ballou like Ruth did, Bonds would have hit over 100.

I could point out that many (most?) of Bonds’ contemporaries in 2001 – including the guys pitching to him – were also using PEDs and none of them were in Bonds’ class in any regard, especially in home run hitting.

I could point out that with almost two months of the season to play in 1994, five players had 37 or more home runs – one of them Bonds – when the strike ended the season.

I could point out that Negro Leagues didn’t play full schedules and that Josh Gibson’s 1937 HR total over 162 games would have been 83.

We can do this all day, and depending on the circumstances and context it would likely be a fun and interesting discussion. But again, all of them are different discussions than the one that many lazy baseball writers and commentators attempt to keep dragging us into. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into it.

The single-season home run champ is Barry Bonds. Move on.

Did I miss something? Let me know.

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