Who is the Home-Run King?

New York Yankee Aaron Judge’s performance in the 2022 season has brought back the heated discussion of who deserves to hold the record for home runs in a single season.


Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

New York Yankee Aaron Judge broke the American League record for single season home runs by hitting 62 home runs in the 2022 season.

In baseball, asterisks [*] are often used to signal that a score is somehow “tainted.” Baseball is known as a game of statistics, so taints over numbers can cause vigorous debate among baseball fans, players and commentators. The recent 2022 season has reignited one of the main debates about baseball statistics: who should be labeled the single season home run king?

Over 146 years and more than 200,000 games, Major League Baseball (MLB) has introduced us to some of the most legendary players in one of America’s most popular sports. Split evenly into the American and National leagues, there are 30 Major League teams and over 750 players. 

Since the formation of MLB, the cadence of baseball has changed and the players have gotten better, breaking records along the way. One of the most infamous teams in the league is the New York Yankees. The Yankees have been a major player in the league over the past 119 years, winning a record 27 World Series titles and housing iconic players such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. One of their top players over the past seven years has been Aaron Judge. Judge has become an easy fan favorite, earning AL rookie of the year, coming in second for AL MVP in 2017, and finally winning the MVP title in 2022.

Judge earned nationwide attention during the 2022 season amassing 62 home runs. In doing so, he surpassed Roger Maris’s long-standing American League record for single season home runs. 

After breaking Babe Ruth’s 41 year hold on the Major League record of 60 home runs in 1961, Maris’ 61 single season home run record was held for 37 years until 1998, when National League players Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both surpassed his record, hitting 70 and 66 home runs respectively. Maris lost the Major League record but remained at the top for the American League record. Both Sosa and McGwire topped Maris’ record again in 1999 and Sosa once again in 2001, but never beating their 1998 numbers. Three years later National League player Barry Bonds surpassed both of them with 73 home runs in the 2001 season. 

When looking at the basic numbers, it is easy to list the rankings. Yet over the years, people have debated whether all the statistics hold the same weight due to tainting.

After Maris’ record breaking 1961 season, many disputed whether he had truly dethroned Ruth. While Maris was able to hit more home runs in a season, he played in 162 games while Ruth had only participated in 154 games during his 1927 season. Baseball commissioner at the time, Ford Frick stated his intention to put an asterisk by Maris’ score but in the end an asterisk was never officially put in the record books. 

The late 1990s was an exciting time in baseball history with the McGwire-Sosa home run battle, but it is now also widely referred to as the Steroid Era. Despite performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) being officially banned in 1991, the MLB didn’t implement PED testing for over a decade later in 2003, allowing a large number of players to use steroids without penalty. This led to unseen levels of performance in players. 

In 2009, the New York Times named 104 players that tested positive in the first round of PED testing in 2003. This list included both Bonds and Sosa. The release of these test results was one of the biggest scandals in baseball history, exposing big name players such as Alex Rodriguez and former New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens. Despite being on the list, Sammy Sosa vehemently denied partaking in the usage of any banned substances in the U.S., even testifying to this in front of Congress in 2005. 

Sosa has also been associated with trainer Angel Presinal from 2001-2003 while in the Dominican Republic. Presinal has since been banned from Major League Baseball properties and was under investigation for his involvement with Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to steroid use during the same years Sosa worked with Presinal. Presinal has also worked with former Texas Ranger outfielder Juan Gonzalez who was caught with a suitcase full of steroids. 

Although he avoided answering questions about steroid use during the 2005 Congressional hearings, eventually single-season home run runner up Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids throughout his career, including during his 1998 season when he battled with Sosa for the record. 

MLB record holder Barry Bonds is also one of the players who took part in this PED use. In addition to being named in the 2009 New York Times article, Bonds was connected to the BALCO scandal in which the Bay Area Laboratories Co-Operative (BALCO) supplied anabolic steroids to professional athletes. When on trial for perjury regarding his denial of knowingly using steroids, Bonds testified that he did receive steroids, but was unaware that they were banned. By 2015, Bonds was cleared of all original charges.

When all these factors are brought into light, some begin to question whether Bonds truly deserves to hold the major league record, and whether McGuire and Sosa deserve their places at the top too. After Judge surpassed Maris’ American League record, his son, Roger Maris Jr tweeted, “Congratulations to Aaron Judge and his family on Aaron’s historic home run number 62! It has definitely been a baseball season to remember. You are all class and someone who should be revered. For the MAJORITY of the fans, we can now celebrate a new CLEAN HOME RUN KING!!” Maris Jr. has not been shy to voice his opinion that the MLB should recognize Judge as the true record holder and create a separate record for players under performance enhancing drugs.

Many fans have disagreed with this viewpoint, declaring that Bonds remains the home run king. Judge has come forward to say that he views Bonds record as valid, but is appreciative of the Maris family’s support. 

Mark McGwire claims while he believes his use of PEDs allowed him to stay on the field longer, it did not help him achieve more home runs. He downplayed the role of steroids on his home run record when he told reporter Bob Costas, “I was given a gift to hit home runs.” Meanwhile, Ralph Houk, manager of the Yankees during Maris’ record year, stated that he believes McGwire’s use of steroids does not affect the legitimacy of his home run total. 

Most baseball fans who witnessed the Sosa-McGwire chase, or three years later saw Bonds surpass both players are reluctant to disregard the validity of their records. Many have even said that fans always knew of the players use of steroids and it did little to deter them from supporting them at the time. But because of the taint of steroids some do believe that there should be an asterisk next to Bonds’ record.

The issue of who should be considered the real home run king resonates as well with Bronx Science students. For example, softball player Yasmine Salha ’24 favors Judge as the record holder since she believes “energy, consistency, and confidence are substantially boosted when using the drug, and this is a crutch Aaron Judge did not have. While I respect Barry Bonds’ 70, at the end of the day, I do not accept it, because it went explicitly against the rules of baseball.”

Officially, Major League Baseball still honors Bonds as the Major League single season home run record holder and has made no motions to stop recognizing him as such, despite his duplicitous past. At the same time, neither Bonds, McGwire, or Sosa, along with other players tainted by the steroid era such as Clemens or Alex Rodriquez, have been recognized for their achievements by the Baseball Writers’ Association, as none have been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In the end, it is in the hands of the fans to decide who holds the title in their heart, asterisk or not. 

Softball player Yasmine Salha ’24 favors Judge as the record holder since she believes “energy, consistency, and confidence are substantially boosted when using the drug, and this is a crutch Aaron Judge did not have. While I respect Barry Bonds’ 70, at the end of the day, I do not accept it, because it went explicitly against the rules of baseball.”