Stanton chas­ing base­ball im­mor­tals

The Sentinel-Record - - SPORTS -

Like “Bul­litt” and “The French Con­nec­tion,” the 2017 Ma­jor League Base­ball sea­son may be re­mem­bered for a chase scene.

Gian­carlo Stanton, a right-handed slug­ger with the Mi­ami Mar­lins, is work­ing on such a script. Six home runs in the last week gave Stanton 50 for the sea­son, the most by any­one since Bal­ti­more’s Chris Davis hit 53 in 2013. You’re en­ti­tled to won­der: Can he hit 60?

Although two men have hit

70 in a sea­son, the 60 home-run club is the Skull and Bones of base­ball, an ex­clu­sive so­ci­ety reached by some only to find their rep­u­ta­tions sul­lied.

Babe Ruth, as he did so of­ten in an un­par­al­leled ca­reer, got there first. Bet­ter­ing by one his record 59 of 1921, Ruth hit No.

60 on the fi­nal day of the 1927 sea­son for the Mur­derer’s Row Yan­kees. (Lou Gehrig, bat­ting be­hind Ruth and des­tined to re­main in his shadow un­til stricken by a fa­tal dis­ease, twice hit 49 in a sea­son.)

Ruth’s record stood for 34 years un­til bro­ken by an­other Yan­kee, although not the one gen­er­ally ex­pected. Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, an ex­pan­sion year (two new teams in each league) in which the qual­ity of big-league pitching was di­luted. Mickey Man­tle set a per­sonal record with 54 be­fore in­juries de­railed his quest of Ruth’s record. In the sum­mer of the Ber­lin Wall, the M and M Boys’ chase to 60 cap­ti­vated mil­lions. Barry Pep­per por­trayed Maris in Billy Crys­tal’s movie trib­ute, *61.

A cou­ple of things about Maris’ record: It lasted longer

(37 years) than Ruth’s record and (like Ruth’s) came in be­half of a pen­nant-win­ning world cham­pion. Maris never came close to 60 again, but how could it be a fluke sea­son when he was Amer­i­can League MVP the pre­vi­ous year? And yet, like golfer Jack Fleck for snatch­ing a U.S. Open from Ben Ho­gan, the home-run record be­came a mill­stone for Maris to carry. Car­di­nal fans re­mem­ber No. 9 for solid ser­vice on two Na­tional League pen­nant win­ners late in his ca­reer. Cancer, which took Ruth at 53, claimed Maris at 51.

Base­ball had to wait un­til

1998 for a real home-run chase, the Car­di­nals’ Mark McGwire vs. the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa. McGwire tied Maris’ mark on La­bor Day, con­nect­ing off Mike Mor­gan, af­ter which more than one head­line writer bor­rowed the ti­tle of a Michael Moore movie, “Roger and Me.” With Maris’ fam­ily in

the stands at Busch Sta­dium and Sosa in the field, clap­ping, McGwire hit No. 62 off the Cubs’ Steve Trach­sel on Tues­day, Sept. 8, a glo­ri­ous mo­ment for the sport.

McGwire charted new ter­ri­tory on clos­ing day when he hit No. 70 off Montreal’s Carl Pa­vano. Sosa tied and sur­passed Maris’ record with two home runs against Mil­wau­kee Sept. 13, fin­ish­ing with 66, then the sec­ond-high­est to­tal ever. Sosa, his team mak­ing the play­offs, was named Na­tional League MVP but Sports Il­lus­trated got it right nam­ing McGwire and Sosa Sports­men of the Year for their epic chase.

Though the only three-time mem­ber of the 60 club, Sosa never topped the charts for a sin­gle sea­son. He hit 63 to McGwire’s 65 in 1999 and 64 to Barry Bonds’ record 73 in 2001. Carl Lewis can re­late, win­ning Olympic gold in the long jump four times but never rest­ing his head for one night with the world record.

Bonds holds both sin­gle-sea­son and ca­reer records (762) in home runs, although one is per­mit­ted not to take those truths as self-ev­i­dent. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, all long since re­tired, are seen as poster chil­dren of the steroid era in Ma­jor League Base­ball. Roger Clemens, tar­nished with the same brush, heads the pitching staff.

Whether the Base­ball Hall of Fame is bet­ter without them, along with Pete Rose, as it is presently con­sti­tuted, is sub­ject to end­less de­bate. It says here, but not too loudly, that base­ball is pe­nal­iz­ing those it deemed he­roes for restor­ing in­ter­est in the sport af­ter the strike-short­ened 1994 sea­son prompted the first World Se­ries can­cel­la­tion in 90 years.

Stanton, as was men­tioned on ESPN’s “PTI” pro­gram Mon­day, can be­come the sixth MLB player to hit 60 home runs in a sea­son and “only the third not un­der steroid sus­pi­cion.” Un­like Man­tle to Maris and Sosa to McGwire, Stanton is fly­ing solo. The Yan­kees’ Aaron Judge, sec­ond with 37, “isn’t in the same neigh­bor­hood, block or street,” says the sports net­work’s Rachel Ni­chols.

Judge has been strug­gling to hit the long ball for more than a month since win­ning the Home Run Derby in Stanton’s ball­park. Though his Mar­lins have noth­ing to play for in Septem­ber, ev­ery Stanton plate ap­pear­ance will have peo­ple crunch­ing num­bers for a while. And since Bonds is the one be­ing chased, they’ll be ask­ing: Can he hit 74?

Bob Wisener Sports Editor On Sec­ond Thought

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