Should we count inflated home run records?

Since its inception, baseball has been a game of long-lasting records. These records have been set and broken countless times throughout the sport’s history. The legitimacy of some of these totals has been controversial, most notably in the category of home runs. The argument built around home run milestones has been a hot topic since the steroid era, dating back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when players all around the league were using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) yet praised for doing so. As we continue to witness historical home run totals this year, it is worth questioning what these records truly mean.

Both Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals are having spectacular campaigns chasing down history. In the final season of his 21-year career, Pujols may become just the fourth player in history to surpass 700 home runs, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. He entered the year with 679, needing 21 home runs to reach that milestone. He currently stands at 698 with 14 games left to play.

Pujols signed back to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he began his career in 2001. In his first 11 seasons with St. Louis Pujols tallied 445 home runs, averaging 40 per season during that stretch. Still considered by many to be one of, if not the most feared right-handed hitters of all time, his last season could put him in a legendary group of sluggers.

Aaron Judge has become the third player in American League history to surpass 60 home runs in a single season, joining other Yankees legends Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. In the ninth inning on Tuesday night Judge hit his 60th home run, tying him with Babe Ruth for second all time.

Sitting on 60 home runs with 15 games remaining, Judge finds himself only one run behind Maris’ 61, who set this record back in 1961. Judge has been on a historic pace all season and is currently four home runs ahead of Maris’ pace through the first 147 team games of the season.

Maris’ mark has stood for 61 years and is seen by some in the baseball world as the official record. The official record for home runs in a single season was 73 by Barry Bonds in 2001, however, this is considered a tarnished record because of his PED use. Besides Bonds, the only other MLB players to surpass 61 home runs were also known steroid users. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire slugged 70 and 65 home runs in 1998 and 1999, respectively, putting him at second all time in single season homers. In the same stretch, Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa also topped Maris, hitting 66 in 1998 and 63 in 1999.

These totals were hit in the peak of the steroid era, which actually revived baseball’s popularity after the 1994 strike. Fans were amazed by the increased rate of home runs but since it was happening due to performance enhancing substances, it unfortunately lessens the history of the achievements of players who reached these milestones without the use of steroids.

The totals set by Bonds, McGwire and Sosa are surely impressive feats, and these substances were not illegal at the time in which they played, but it creates an unbalanced playing field. They were not the only ones who were using steroids at this time, but even still, it cannot be seen as a legitimate record. Both Judge and Pujols are nearing numbers that have eluded many players throughout baseball history, making it more impressive knowing that they are doing it naturally.