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With baseball’s regular season ending in just over two weeks, all eyes are on two players – one player in his prime and the other a longtime great in his final season – each approaching the stages. home run majors.
The American League single-season home run record has stood since 1961, surviving even through the steroid-fueled home run frenzy of the late ’90s and early 2000s. In two decades, no No player has come as close to breaking it as New York Yankees star outfielder Aaron Judge this year.
And Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, nearing the end of his last season in 22 years of major league play, is just under 700 career home runs, a number so high that only three players in the MLB have achieved it.
The regular season ends in early October, leaving both players over a dozen games to accomplish the feats.
Aaron Judge and the American League home run record
After hitting home runs #58 and #59 in Sunday’s game against Milwaukee, Judge is now just inches away from the AL home run record, set at 61 by fellow Yankee Roger Maris in 1961. .
On Tuesday, Judge has 16 more regular-season games to hit two (to tie) or three (to outrun) more homers. Always a modest team player, Judge doesn’t talk much about the brand. On Sunday, he objected that the hunt for records had “never been [his] to concentrate.”
“Numbers are just numbers. I focus on what I can to be a good teammate, to help the team win. If that means hitting a home run, then that means hitting a home run,” said Judge.
An important note: While Judge is within reach of the AL record, the all-time single-season record set by Barry Bonds in 2001 is much higher, at 73 homers. But that record, along with the next five spots on the list (all of which were set by Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire), was set in baseball’s steroid days. Many players around this time, including Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, were suspected or admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.
Judge could also become the 11th player in AL/NL history to win the “Triple Crown” – in other words, to lead his league in three separate stats: batting average, home runs and runs scored (which was first recorded as an official statistic in 1920). Judge already leads in home runs and RBIs, and his .316 batting average is currently just .001 behind the leader.
Albert Pujols and 700 circuits
This one isn’t a “record” per se, but the 700 home run club is perhaps the most exclusive fraternity in baseball. Only three players in MLB history have hit more than 700 home runs, and their names are familiar to even the most lukewarm baseball viewers: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.
This one has been in the making for a long time. Pujols has been playing in the major leagues since 2001 and has been an outstanding hitter throughout his career.
Before returning to the Cardinals for this season, Pujols, baseball’s oldest player, announced that this year — his 22nd season — would be his last.
Going into the season with 679 career homers, his chances of hitting 700 seemed within reach. And now he’s getting closer: Since the middle of last month, Pujols has hit 12 homers, including his 698th in a game against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
Even opposing coaches express their admiration for Pujols. “It’s hard not to be emotional, even when you’re on the wrong side,” Reds manager David Bell said after Friday’s game.
As of Tuesday, the Cardinals have 14 games left in the regular season. Pujols needs two more circuits to reach 700.
Additional reporting by WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach.