Saturday, October 1, 2022

61 And Holding...


Aaron Judge / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Aaron Judge ties Roger Maris for 61 home runs…

It took eight days, but the apparent 2022 American League MVP, Aaron Judge, hit his sixty-first home run on Wednesday, September 28th at Rogers Centre in Toronto off pitcher Tim Mayza. Roger Maris took much criticism when he set the American League single season home run record because he could not do it within 154 games like Babe Ruth did when he hit 60 in 1927. Judge hit his sixtieth within 154 games, but the sixty-first did not arrive until Game 155. It certainly does not diminish Judge’s performance this season. He has been tremendous, at a historic level.

Here is a listing of Judge’s 2022 home runs:

Roger Maris hit his record sixty-first home run on October 1, 1961. Assuming the Yankees play today (weather-permitting), and Judge is in the lineup, it feels like destiny for him to break the Maris record exactly sixty-one years later.

Roger Maris / Photo Credit: AP

I have never condoned steroid use, and the home run records by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa will forever be tainted, but for as long as MLB recognizes their stats, I agree that Bonds is the single season home run champion with seventy-three home runs. But regardless of what the PED-inspired stats were, sixty-one home runs is the American League and Yankees’ franchise record. As such, we should take pride in Judge’s accomplishments. The additional bonus is he did it cleanly. Even greater if he brings home the Triple Crown as he continues to flirt at the top in league batting average.

I am enormously proud of Aaron Judge, and I am glad he is a Yankee. I am saddened that he will be free for any team to sign later this Fall, but for now, he is ours. I cannot fathom Judge leaving the Yankees and I hope he does not. This may be one of the biggest decisions ever made by Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner. It has been tough to see certain Yankees leave for other teams over the years, but I am unable to think of any that would be as devastating as Judge’s departure. In terms of legacy, there is no question Judge stands to gain the most by staying in Pinstripes. Retiring as a Yankee will forever brand him among the legends of the game and he will always stand among the Yankee greats. His day for immortalization in Monument Park after the end of his career would be assured. Judge means so much to the Yankees organization, and his contributions and value to the franchise and the city of New York far exceed his play on the field. It is simple, Hal, pay the man.

Unwelcome news on the relief front. Zack Britton may have pitched his last game for the Yankees. In making his third appearance of the season after returning to the team on September 24th following his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Britton left the game after his bases-loaded wild pitch allowed the Baltimore Orioles to take a 2-1 lead over the Yankees last night (which proved to be the final score). Britton had failed to cover home plate on the wild pitch, and it was clear he was in pain. After the game, left arm fatigue was cited as the cause. Regardless, even if Britton can make it back for the few remaining days in the regular season, there is virtually no chance he will be on the post-season roster. He no longer has the time to prove he deserves a spot.

Zack Britton / Photo Credit: Adam Hunger, AP

If last night was Britton’s final game as a Yankee (he is a free agent after the season), it is sad that his final performances were less than stellar. I have enjoyed Britton’s time as a Yankee. I was excited when the Yankees acquired him on July 24, 2018, for Cody Carroll, Josh Rogers, and Dillon Tate, and I was happy when they re-signed him in January 2019. He has had his share of injuries, but when healthy, he has been a tremendous force in the bullpen. If this is the end, I wish him the best. I enjoyed our time together. Once a hated Oriole, he has proved he is a Yankee and will always be.

Word spread last evening that closer(?) Clay Holmes will not pitch again in the regular season. He is dealing with rotator cuff tendonitis, and received a cortisone shot on Thursday. Holmes remains optimistic that he will be ready for the AL Division Series which begins on October 11, 2022. This is disturbing news, and there is uncertainty what we will see if Holmes is able to recover in time. Can he be the dominant early season reliever with some rest, or will he continue to struggle? We simply do not know. This places more pressure on Scott Effross, Ron Marinaccio, and even Aroldis Chapman to step up for the back end of games. Chapman has looked better of late, but I cannot say he has my trust. Lou Trivino may be the best option, but like the Los Angeles Dodgers (who flushed Craig Kimbrel as their “designated closer”), I suspect the Yankees will continue to employ a closer-by-committee. I am worried about the state of the pen heading into October. I miss Michael King now more than ever before.

Giancarlo Stanton, wherefore art thou? Stanton looked pathetic at the plate last night. No hits in four plate appearances including two strikeouts. Excluding his injury-shortened 2019 and 2020 seasons, this has easily been Stanton’s worst season in the Major Leagues. His fWAR of 0.7 is the lowest of any season he has played at least one hundred games. While he has twenty-eight home runs and seventy-five RBIs, his batting line is an abysmal .206/.289/.440, with .315 wOBA, and 106 wRC+. For the month of September, his batting average was .143 (four home runs and eleven RBIs).

Giancarlo Stanton / Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post

He has become an average player paid at superstar level. I have seen many on Social Media question whether Stanton should be on the post-season roster. Of course, he should, there is always a chance he rediscovers his stroke. When he does, he can carry the team on his back. There are few people who can do that. Stanton is one of the keys to October success, so it is discouraging he has continued to underperform in recent weeks. I hope he can find the magic soon. When he is right, nobody can crush baseballs like he can.

So long, Héctor López. The 1961 World Champion Yankees lost another member when Héctor López passed away in Florida on Thursday due to complications from lung cancer. The Panamanian-born López was 93.

Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, & Hector Lopez / Photo Credit: Bettman/Getty Images

He played for the Yankees from 1959 to 1966, after starting his career in 1955 with the Kansas City Athletics. López, a utility man, was better known for his hitting than his fielding. He made seventeen errors in his first year with the Yankees (in seventy-six games at third base and three in the outfield). His combined RBI total in 1959 with the Royals and Yankees was 93. It led Yankees manager Casey Stengel to say, “If I bench him, I bench 93 runs, but I would like better fieldin’ outta my 93 runs.” 

In the 1961 World Series clinching game, his homer and triple, driving in five runs, helped power the Yankees to the 13-5 champagne-soaked victory over the Cincinnati Reds. For his career, he hit 136 home runs, drove in 136 runs, and batted .269. After his playing days were over, he became the first Black manager in Triple A history. He was a regular at Old Timer’s Day. It is always sad to see the loss of great Yankees. Rest in peace, Héctor.

Hector Lopez / Photo Credit: Bob Croslin

As always, Go Yankees!