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If Giancarlo Stanton wants to think 61 is the real single-season home run record, let him

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He would be wrong, but at least he’s aware of how he’d be wrong.

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Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

I read this headline, and I wanted to scream.

Is Stanton the legit HR king if he hits 62? Even he wonders

Et tu, Stanton? As an unabashed Barry Bonds partisan, it’s unsettling to see this discussion begin. Because you know how it ends. It ends with every Chud & Chud In The Morning radio show agreeing that, yes, 61 home runs is the legitimate record. There will be entire episodes of Yelling My Opinion devoted to the idea. If you’re unwilling to believe that 61 home runs is the record, you’ll be firmly in the minority. The closer Stanton gets to 61 homers, the louder the bleating will get. And I wasn’t expecting Stanton to be an active part of this chorus.

Except, the truth is that Stanton was pretty thoughtful on the matter:

He admitted he’s “at a crossroads” in an internal debate over what to think about all this. If PED users like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa need an asterisk by their name, he said, so does Babe Ruth since he only faced white pitchers.

And that’s the right approach. Use the context to explore the nuances. Don’t use the asterisk as a shuriken and declare that parts of baseball history don’t exist. Because I’ve been down that road before. Look, I even reached out to the internet:

And three years later, I was a good internet citizen who did the right thing:

Those were created three years ago when Bud Selig suggested that Hank Aaron was the true Home Run King. I agreed with him. Kind of. This is a similar situation.

Stanton is absolutely right that these numbers need context. Babe Ruth faced white Americans and only white Americans. Roger Maris faced expansion pitchers and played an extra eight games compared to Ruth. Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds worked out like super hard and were constantly drinking protein shakes, give or take. Unless they were both ‘roided to the gills. Either way. And Giancarlo Stanton will have played in one of the highest home run eras of all time, with a suspect baseball that just might be different.

There are other parts to this story, though.

Ruth entered a league that didn’t care about home runs and left it homer-wild. He invented the very idea of a home run chase. Maris had to deal with unrelenting hometown pressure that’s still hard to fathom today. McGwire and Bonds both had to face pitchers who also shopped at back alley GNCs and weren’t dragging into the dog days of summer like their predecessors were. And Stanton probably hasn’t really needed the extra 2 or 3 percent of distance that the changed balls might offer. They’re all tremendous in their own right, and if Stanton hits 62, my stars, give him all the credit he deserves. That would be an amazing accomplishment.

He would still be 12 home runs short of breaking the single-season home run record, though. I’ve run the numbers and run them again. It always checks out.

There are a couple of numbers that stand out when comparing Stanton’s historic 2017 run to Bonds’ 2001 run. The first is that Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, which is more home runs than anyone else has hit in one season. The second is that Stanton has been walked intentionally nine times this year, and Bonds was walked intentionally nine times that June. He took 142 unintentional walks from pitchers who wanted no part of him, whereas Stanton is currently at 49 unintentional walks.

Stanton is hitting these home runs in an environment where pitchers are OK challenging him because he’s occasionally willing to get himself out. They’re willing to gamble with him in a way they weren’t with Bonds. That’s not to diminish what Stanton is doing. It’s to explain the sense of reverence and wonder that I have for Bonds and why I bristle at the suggestion that his home run record isn’t canon. Since Bonds broke that record, 25 major league hitters (and scores and scores of minor league hitters) have been suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. None of them hit 73 home runs.

Because that’s a record, you know. You probably would have heard about it.

Pretending those 73 homers were as simple as popping open a can of spinach isn’t just rude to Bonds; it’s rude to every baseball player because it suggests that all there is to hitting a baseball far is strength. I’m pretty sure Glenn Braggs could have beat Barry Bonds in an arm-wrestling match in 2001. He was ... strong.

Braggs hit 70 home runs in his seven-year career. It’s not all about the beef.

But it’s somewhat about the beef! There is absolutely no way around that. Bonds had an advantage, and it helped him hit home runs. It was an advantage that all of his peers weren’t to take because of health and ethical concerns, which means that he had an unethical advantage.

I promise you that the national discussion was more, “Hey, these guys seem a little big to you? Ha ha,” than “Social Norms in Baseball: How Kant’s Science of the Moral World Informs the Decision to Cheat,” but that doesn’t change the fact that Bonds had an advantage. He wasn’t just bigger, but he recovered better. His stamina was up. It was a big deal.

Which is why it’s perfectly fine to believe something like, “If Giancarlo Stanton hits 62 home runs, that will impress me more than when Barry Bonds hit 73.” That is a rational belief that can be argued, supported, disagreed with, and fought for.

What I’m not into is the unsubtle shifting of the goalposts; the snaky language and gaslighting that comes with The Real Home Run Record. Because it isn’t. Someone who hits 62 home runs will need a dozen more to break The Real Home Run Record, even if you’re already more impressed by the new accomplishment.

We’ve been here before, actually, because my colleagues and I really, really enjoy needling Pete Rose fans. It’s absolutely funny to suggest that Ichiro is the true Hit King and watch them scramble to their battle stations, and I will not apologize for this. Especially when Rose is the durf who says stuff like this:

"It sounds like in Japan,’’ Rose told USA TODAY Sports, "they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen.

But I’m not doing it just to troll. There’s an argument to be made:

Add it up, and I’m willing to entertain the argument. I’m willing to have this discussion in a loud bar as our voices escalate and escalate. Pete Rose is the all-time leader for hits in Major League Baseball history, and that’s indisputable, but what Ichiro did, spanning two decades and two countries, in an era of LOOGYs and power closers, while performing at a high level and not writing himself into the lineup, just might be more impressive.

This is the same idea. You get to choose which accomplishment impresses you the most. You get to have opinions and support your opinions.

You just don’t get to change math. I’m willing to believe that Stanton can break the real single-season home run record this season. He just has to hit 30 home runs over the next 43 games.


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