By Manny Randhawa
Giancarlo Stanton's baseball history began with photographs of a man he'd never met and had no relationship to, which were prominently displayed in his home as if this person was a member of the family.
"My mom really liked Roberto Clemente, which is why I did," Stanton told Sports on Earth. "She wasn't into baseball, but it was more the Puerto Rican heritage. Not being able to see him play, and I was a kid, you only really know what's in front of you for the most part. But I started looking at him closer when my mom had pictures of him around the house."
That house was about a 20-minute drive from Dodger Stadium, where Stanton's father, Mike, would often take him. What was in front of Giancarlo on those occasions included the great sluggers of the era, such as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, who would soon break baseball's single-season home run record twice in the span of three years.
"Stanton" and "baseball history" have been used in the same sentence quite a bit lately, and for good reason: the 27-year-old Marlins slugger has hit 59 home runs in 2017, becoming just the sixth player in history to reach that total in a single season.
Stanton's company on that includes some of the most iconic players of all-time: Babe Ruth hit 59 homers in 1921 and 60 in '27. Roger Maris broke Ruth's then-single-season record with his 61st home run in 1961. Then, of course, came McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds.
The numbers 60 and 61 continue to hold significant meaning for many in and around baseball despite the single-season home run record of 73 belonging to Bonds. Stanton is cognizant of that. But his baseball history is his alone, and it lives on whether he reaches 60 or not.
"If I hit 59, if I hit 57, I'm not gonna look back at this season as a disappointment," Stanton said earlier this week. "I worked my ass off. I don't care. If it happens, it happens."
Stanton's candor on the subject is a byproduct of the challenges he's faced to get to this point, rather than a dismissal of the importance of the 60-home run plateau.
Injuries took from Stanton a good portion of his first seven Major League seasons, including multiple facial fractures from a Mike Fiers fastball in 2014. But he's played in a career-high 157 games this year, and he has not only shown others what he's capable of when healthy, but also himself.
"With me, if you don't show production in doing it, it's not an actuality in doing it," Stanton said. "I don't like saying you can do something without putting the platform there. Whether I wasn't on the field long enough to do that, or some other factors, [it hadn't happened prior to this season]."
Stanton said it was sometime this season that he considered the possibility of hitting 60 or more home runs for the first time. And whether he does that in 2017 or not, this won't be his last shot at it.
"I'm here now. I've had struggles, I've had outstanding streaks," Stanton said. "It's possible, 100 percent."
Hitting 62 home runs in a season, in the minds of some, would make baseball history. But Stanton's baseball history continues on its own track.
"Baseball was my least favorite sport growing up," Stanton said. "I say 'least favorite' because it's hard to do anything by yourself with it. Basketball, I shot all night and all day by myself. Practice-wise, you always need someone to pitch to you in baseball. Football, you can do routes and stuff, though you still need someone to throw to you. It's easier to have someone throw to you than have someone round up a bunch of balls on the field.
"But my dad was my biggest influence, because he would always throw to me. He'd always show up from work and say, 'Let's go. This place should be open for a couple hours; the soccer guys don't practice until this time. The sun goes down at this time, we have this many hours to go.'"
Mike Stanton encouraged his son to play baseball. He also lifted weights. Couple that with the fact that Giancarlo's Little League team for three seasons was the Cardinals, for whom he played first base while wearing No. 25, and a perfect storm was brewing for the 8-year-old to become enthralled with McGwire's prodigious power.
"He reminds me of my dad," Stanton said of McGwire. "Basically, like if my dad were to be in the big leagues, that's who he'd be."
The annual Home Run Derby during All-Star festivities was appointment viewing in the Stanton household. Mike made sure of it.
"When Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire were in it, I wanted to see it," Giancarlo said. "It was weird, I watched it more often because of the thrill of the home run, but playing it wasn't always my favorite sport. I'd say because there's so much failure in it. As a kid, you only want to be successful."
Baseball has entered a new home run era after several years of pitcher dominance. The all-time record for home runs across the Major Leagues in a single season (5,693 in 2000) has been broken. Leading the way are Stanton and Yankees rookie slugger Aaron Judge, who broke McGwire's single-season rookie home run mark (49 in 1987) with his 50th on Monday, then hit his 51st a couple of games later.
For a time, it looked as though Judge might supplant Stanton as the game's greatest power hitter, with 30 home runs to Stanton's 26 at the All-Star break, followed by a victory in the Home Run Derby to dethrone Stanton as defending champion.
Stanton's incredible second-half power surge, during which he hit 18 home runs over 27 games from July 17 to Aug. 15, left a suddenly slumping Judge behind. But Stanton doesn't see "slugger status" as anything but a contrived notion.
"There's no title," Stanton said. "There's the media of it. That's for you guys. I've never had the 'title' -- I've had the most in the NL. There's guys that have had the most, but other guys were more popular. So that's for you guys to deal with. It doesn't matter. There's the guy with the most raw power, and the guy with the most power in the season. So that's the facts. The rest is what it is."
Just as with single-season home run "titles," the debate around the single-season home run record doesn't seem to preoccupy Stanton.
"It's not black or white. It's very, very gray," Stanton said. "There can be three educated opinions that can all be correct. But to be in company with [players like Maris, McGwire and Bonds] would be awesome, too."
Should Stanton join that company, it will represent the most prominent intersection, to date, of baseball history with his own.
"I feel like that's my dad's masterplan," Stanton said, smiling. "That's what he envisioned, I feel like. When you start to see little hints and little things and what he took me to see and why.
"I'm the player he took me to see."
Manny Randhawa is a reporter and member of the Statcast™ research team at MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MannyOnMLB.