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When Babe Ruth achieved the impossible and the incredible, hitting 60 home runs for the first time in history, nearly 100 years ago, the closest rival on the home run list was his teammate, the great Lou Gehrig, who ended up finishing with 47.

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When Roger Maris hit 61 homers in 1961, in that pressured season now best represented in cinematic grandeur by the movie ’61, he completed seven homers ahead of beloved teammate Mickey Mantle.

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Aaron Judge had a 23-home run lead over everyone in baseball heading into Thursday night’s games. As of Friday, there are 13 games left to play. There’s no Yankees pushing it like Ruth got pushed, the Maris got pushed: when you think of home runs and baseball and take the stench out of the steroid era, we’re left with only of the Yankees.

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Baby Ruth. Roger Maris. And now the eventual champion without a championship belt — the official unofficial all-time home run leader when Judge hit 62, almost poetically this weekend in Boston. The leader of this era without performance-enhancing drugs. It’s been a one-man show for a top-to-bottom Yankees team that has led the American League East pretty much every day of the season and Judge has led homers, basically start to finish.

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Watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. pretty much every day of last season, I thought that was the greatest offensive performance I’ve seen from a Blue Jays player. I thought that in some way we were all witnessing some kind of history and a new beginning. But here is Judge, in the outfield every night, leading the American League in home runs and RBI and walks.

He has 60 home runs to Boston, 12 more than Guerrero last year. He has 128 RBIs, 17 more than Guerrero. He has a higher batting average, more walks, higher on-base percentage, more slugging and OPS, and just about every other fancy offensive stat you want to consider.

And now, with two weeks left in the season, there’s something else to consider. The Triple Crown. It didn’t seem like a big factor a few weeks ago. And in today’s world, the Triple Crown may not mean as much as it once did, but for someone my age, who grew up with Frank Robinson winning in 1966 and Carl Yastrzemski winning a year later, and no one after that for 45 years, the Triple Crown meant everything to this kid.

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It means something very special if Judge can go through the next two weeks and find himself in front of Xander Bogaerts and Luis Arraez in striking. It would be the fourth Triple Crown of my life, the last belonging to Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera hit 44 home runs in 2012. It was special how special all those accomplishments are: it just wasn’t what it feels like with Judge. As if we were witnessing something we had never seen before. Like OJ Simpson rushing 2,000 meters before becoming a criminal. Like Wayne Gretzky scoring 92 goals.
Like Wilt Chamberlain with an average of 50.4 points per game in the NBA, which I have never seen: I was five years old at the time.

I was lucky in 1998 to be assigned the last weekend in St. Louis when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in different stadiums chasing home run records against each other in a later season marred by circumstances.

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“You’re not dreaming 70,” McGwire said, somewhat numb with accomplishment then, the rest of us unaware or naive of what it took to reach that number. “I surprise myself, yes. I am absolutely exhausted. I stayed in this tunnel (focusing) for so long. I kept the focus.


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“After I hit 62, everyone was like, ‘Shoot for 70.’ I never thought about that. I never dreamed of it. Hitting 70? I don’t even know what to say.”

We know what to say now: the six greatest home run seasons in major league history have all been tainted with steroids. Sosa hit 63, 64 and 66 in four years. He barely gets a Hall of Fame mention these days. Barry Bonds turned 73 in the greatest offensive season in history, if you don’t care that his hat size grew exponentially during his big league years. McGwire hit 70 and followed it with 65 before later admitting what he was consuming.

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Maybe we are still ignorant or naive or both, but there is no evidence of drug use here. Judge was a latecomer to the majors, a 6-foot-7, 282-pound one-man behemoth, who hit 52 homers in his first full season in the big leagues at age 25. , with too many injuries and too many games lost in recent years. This season he has played 121 games in the outfield, 21 at DH, contributing just about every day.

And the record will be his, no matter what the fake numbers say. He will be the champion of the home run without syringe. Tied with Roger Maris heading into Thursday night. On his way to a place he’s never known before, a place we’ve never seen before.

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    SIMMONS: Greatness Without a Syringe: Aaron Judge’s Historic Home Run Pursuit

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