What if Judge hits 62?

Aug. 4—Just a few random thoughts on a hopeful, if confusing and also sad, day in baseball…

Turns out, Aaron Judge is on an historic home run pace, which is bound to happen when you’re hitting one every day.

The mammoth Yankees slugger amassed 43 homers in 102 games. Only the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber is within 10 bombs of Judge’s major league lead. If he keeps up this kind of slugging prowess, Judge is on pace for 67 home runs.

If he approaches that, September and October are going to be filled with some significant discussions about where Judge’s 2022 season stands in baseball lore.

At minimum, Judge has a legitimate shot to break the American League’s single-season home run record, set by another Yankees right fielder, Roger Maris, in 1961. Simply maintaining his current pace would give Judge the third-best single-season home run total in Major League history, behind the only two sluggers who set a more torrid pace than his: Barry Bonds in 2001 and Mark McGwire in 1998.

No doubt, the history books will list that as one of the most magical single seasons ever.

But how will history remember it?

There will forever be a pall cast over the numbers from those handful of seasons in the late 1990s and early 2000s that are now circled as the height of the steroids era, and let’s be real: Baseball would love for someone who didn’t play during that time to surpass Bonds’ 73 homers from 2001.

For decades, that particular record stood as one of the most revered in sports. Maris surpassed the 60 that Babe Ruth swatted in 1927, and there were few sports fans who didn’t know either of those numbers. You just don’t hear “73” that often anymore in the discussion of great sports records.

Part of the reason for that is, so few players have come anywhere near it since Bonds set it. Only Giancarlo Stanton, in 2017, got within 14 homers of Bonds.

Yet, it could also be that baseball simply doesn’t like talking about a record so engrained with an era that sullied the game.

If Judge gets to 62, there will be plenty of old-school fans who consider that to be the single-season record. Major League Baseball won’t, because it frankly can’t. But if he somehow amps up the pace he’s currently on, if he gets that number from 67 up to 70, it will be interesting to see how baseball promotes a Judge pursuit of Bonds as September approaches.

You can’t promote a record that isn’t “the” record. But you’d also love to convince fans that Bonds didn’t put the home run mark out of reach.

Either way, Judge will be as fun a player to watch down the stretch as there has been in decades.

Err Jordan?

The Yankees had a fairly terrific few days leading up to Tuesday’s trading deadline. Until the last 10 minutes, anyway.

Dealing lefty Jordan Montgomery to St. Louis for center fielder Harrison Bader rated as the biggest head-scratcher among all the moves made at a busy deadline around the game.

It’s difficult to conjure any reason it made total sense for the Yankees to deal someone who had been a rock in their starting rotation for a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t get on base a ton and who will be a free agent following the 2023 season.

For starters, where does Bader fit into the lineup when he does return from the injured list? Does he send Aaron Hicks to the bench? On a fully healthy team, do the Yankees play him in center and keep Giancarlo Stanton as a DH? And if so, how much does that cut into Matt Carpenter’s at-bats?

Meanwhile, where do the innings Montgomery has so consistently given the Yankees the last few seasons come from? Domingo German has good stuff, but unreliable results. Clarke Schmidt has great stuff, but he has only thrown more than five innings in one game since the end of the 2019 season. Nestor Cortes is over 100 innings for the first time since 2018, and he’ll blow past his career high in innings by mid-August. That’s a lot of workloads to manage.

Montgomery is hardly Ron Guidry. But he takes the ball every five days, works deep into games and gives his team a chance to win. He gave the Yankees more than five innings 13 times this season, a big reason why manager Aaron Boone has been able to keep the bullpen reasonably rested. That’s just not a number you can expect from anyone the Yankees are replacing him with.

Clearly, the Yankees are trying to put together a postseason roster. But they weakened their regular season rotation to do it. And they are going to need that rotation if they want to secure home-field advantage.

Farewell, friend

Vin Scully often told the story of the 8-year-old version of himself, who fell in love with baseball when he saw the linescore from Game 2 of the 1936 World Series hanging on the window of a laundromat.

As the nation mourns his death at 94, the amazing thing about Scully is how many fans have a similar relationship with the game because of him. How many were hooked on the game after listening to him call Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965? Or Henry Aaron’s record-setting home run in 1974? Or Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 homer in the 1987 World Series?

Hard to picture I’d be writing these words now, had 9-year-old me not been allowed to stay up late on a Saturday night to watch Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, getting the opportunity to watch Mookie Wilson hit a roller behind the bag that got through Bill Buckner.

First thing I did when I got this job was purchase a satellite radio subscription so I could listen to Scully call Dodgers games from a different coast. It was like listening to a voice as familiar as a grandfather’s describe a simple game the way Shakespeare would. Scully had a penchant for saying he needed the fans more than they needed him.

But man, did we need Vin, too. He’ll be as missed as anyone ever associated with the national pastime.

DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.

DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.