Yankees star Aaron Judge's 60-home run quest this summer brought back memories of Roger Maris' epic 1961 season, in which he hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth's hallowed 1927 record of 60.
Judge, a Yankees right fielder like Maris and Ruth, smashed his 60th home run Tuesday night. Also leading the American League in batting average and runs batted in, Judge looks likely to win the Triple Crown, which would make him the most valuable player favorite over the Angels' Shohei Ohtani.
Leading off the ninth inning Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Judge hit a sinker from right-hander Wil Crowe 430 feet into the left field bleachers, before Giancarlos Stanton's grand slam finished a five-run rally and a 9-8 Yankees win. Judge made a brief curtain call. Now he takes aim at Maris' American League record of 61 home runs.
A national obsession, Maris' pursuit of Ruth's record was one of my first fully aware sports memories.
At age 10, I was one of the few passionate Yankees fans in southern Louisiana. Maris' famous teammate Mickey Mantle was my second-favorite player behind Willie Mays, and my father brought me Yankees memorabilia from his frequent business trips to New York City.
I still have miniature Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville slugger bats signed by Mantle and Maris, and a baseball autographed by the entire team. "Larry Berra" was Yogi's signature.
Mantle matched Maris' pursuit of Ruth for much of the season, until he was sidelined by one of his frequent injuries and finished with 54 home runs. Maris kept going, at last surpassing Ruth's record in 162nd final game of the season.
Judge reached the 60 home run club in the 147th game of the season, while Ruth set his record in the 1927 season's concluding 154th game. Maris needed 159 games to reach the 60-home run mark. Because of major league expansion in 1961, the schedule was extended.
Barry Bonds holds the major league record of 73 home runs, breaking earlier records set by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. All three of the National League sluggers were accused of steriods use, tainting their records. Many will consider Judge the true home run champion if he breaks Maris' American League record.
Judge's extraordinary summer brings back my youthful innocence, when I was dazzled by Maris and Mantle's heroic pursuit of the Babe.