We saw the Home Run Derby in Miami on Monday night, and saw what His Honor, Aaron Judge, did -- what they all did, really -- hitting balls that in the end seemed to provide the same total distance you'd get going from South Beach to South Dakota. It was a Home Run Derby that sometimes felt like a fast break in basketball, or a NASCAR race, the balls were flying out of the ballpark that fast. And, of course, that furiously.
In the end, though, the star of the night, even in Giancarlo Stanton's house, was Judge, who is the biggest star in baseball right now, at this time when there are young stars all over the map, the ones you saw all over the field in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. Judge is big in all ways, and not just in New York, where he truly is the first legitimate home run kid the Yankees have had since Mickey Mantle.
At a moment in the game when baseballs are flying out of ballparks like Titleists, and guys are exit-velocity-ing their way to maybe 500 more home runs this season than last season, it is Judge's home runs that have commanded the most attention, because of the way he hits them and where he hits them, as he continues to make ballparks in Major League Baseball look like Little League fields. Or your backyard.
More than anybody, the big guy wearing a big number, 99, has brought back the concept of the "big fly" in baseball. In the process, and even if it's not this season, Judge and some of the other young sluggers might be doing something even more important, and more valuable:
They might be making 60 a magic number again in baseball.
The kid has 30 at the All-Star break. But his team has played 86 games so far and Judge has played 84. So to get to 60 this season, it would mean 30 more home runs over the next 76 games, and that's if he plays them all. It will be no easy thing, for sure, and not just because Judge will be pitched around more and more over the next 2 1/2 months. It is also worth noting that if Judge stays healthy, he will play more games this season than he ever has in his life. Up to now, the most he's played in one year was 131 in 2014, with two teams in the Minors. So as big as Judge is and as strong as he is, even after the way he made this particular All-Star week about him more than anything else, Atlas may eventually shrug.
But Judge will make a run at 60. Might do that this year. Might look around and see some of the other home run kids racing him to 60. And 60 will be a magic number again, which it sure has not been since Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit that number out of the park along with everything else when steroids in baseball were at high tide.
And to this day the idea, even from people who love this game, that somehow this was OK -- that Bonds and McGwire and Sosa and all the other suspected juicers of that era were simply doing what everyone else was doing -- is dumber than a bag of old baseballs. This isn't about moralizing. That's always been a cynical dodge. It's just about plain common sense, and plainly refusing to ignore what that era did to the record books, and baseball's crucial connection to the past.
And 60 home runs in a season.
By the way? I never make any assumptions any longer about what guys might be taking or not taking or what might still be keeping users ahead of testers. A few years ago, I was writing a column about one of the current stars of baseball, and included this sentence: "At least [player's name] is clean." My sports editor at the New York Daily News at the time said to me, "You don't know that." I didn't. I believe in baseball's drug testing, even understanding that no program like it is perfect. I believe Commissioner Rob Manfred when he says that it's not the balls being juiced this year. Maybe balls are being hit this hard and this far because they're being thrown harder than ever. Maybe the science of home run hitting and launch angles and all the rest of it are as strong as the hitters.
But it would be a cool thing -- just that, cool -- if 60 did become a magic number again in baseball, the way .400 is still a magic number (even if .406 is the number to beat) and 300 victories for a pitcher is a magic number. Babe Ruth did it first, and then nobody hit the number again until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, when the race to 60 homers was against Mantle. Just those two 60-homer seasons, in the whole splendid history of the game.
Then McGwire did it twice and Sosa did it three times in four years. McGwire hit 70 home runs in '98. Bonds hit 73 in 2001. Even 50 home runs in a season became less of a magic number than ever before. Before 1995, there had been 18 times when a player hit 50 home runs or more. Then, just between 1995 and 2007, players hit 50 or more 23 times. Greg Vaughn hit 50 in 1998, when everything was about McGwire and Sosa. Luis Gonzalez, bless his heart, hit 57 in 2001 while Bonds was hitting 73. Brady Anderson, bless his heart, hit 50 in 1996.
Now, between 2008 and Aaron Judge, there has been just two 50-homer seasons, by Jose Bautista for the Blue Jays in 2010 and Chris Davis in 2013 for the Orioles. Now here come Judge, and Stanton, and Cody Bellinger, and George Springer, and Joey Votto, and all the guys behind them. All of them have a shot at 50. If no one makes a run at 60 this time, there will be a time when it does happen.
"[Judge] is a tremendous talent on the field, a really appealing off-the-field personality -- the kind of player that can become the face of the game," Commissioner Manfred said in Miami this week.
We can't go back and take a scrub brush to the record books, or put the genie -- in all ways -- back in the bottle. We can still get 60 back. All this time after Maris, it may be a Yankee who gives 60 back to us, and to baseball. It really will feel like magic.