Giancarlo Stanton's Race for 62 Dubs Him King of MLB's New Golden Home Run Era

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 24, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20:  Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins watches the flight of his seventh inning three run home run against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 20, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Even for the people who watch Giancarlo Stanton every day, each at-bat is something to be savored. Even for the guys who see him close up, it never stops being special.

"Every time he comes up, you think he's going to pop one," said Perry Hill, whose perspective comes from the first base coaching box. "Every sound is loud. You think he's going to let one go every time he swings. I expect a loud sound."

That's what it's like. That's why it's special, this run the Miami Marlins slugger has been on since early July.

It's not true that he hits a home run every at-bat, or even every day. But that's what it feels like.

This is what home run history feels like, a special kind of daily anticipation that doesn't really come with any other kind of sports record. This is what Mark McGwire 1998 felt like, and though I wasn't around to see it myself, I've got to believe this is what Babe Ruth 1927 and Roger Maris 1961 felt like, too.

Those are the comparisons, as is Barry Bonds 2001, and if you want to make this into an argument over which number matters most, you might well be missing the point.

This is special. Enjoy it.

"He's creating the pace and the hoopla," Marlins infielder Mike Aviles said. "It's enjoyable coming to the park every day."

Stanton creates it with what he does with his bat, rather than with what he says. After some mildly interesting comments about the relative merits of 60, 61 and 73 last week in Miami, Stanton spent the weekend mostly avoiding the media and the issue while the Marlins were in New York. He apparently doesn't enjoy talking about this stuff, and to be honest, that's fine.

I'd rather watch him hit.

Asked last week if he thought Bonds' record of 73 was tainted because it came during the steroid era, Stanton told reporters, "Considering some things, I do."
Asked last week if he thought Bonds' record of 73 was tainted because it came during the steroid era, Stanton told reporters, "Considering some things, I do."Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There's no real answer for it, anyway. As quite a few of Stanton's teammates agreed, 73 home runs (Bonds 2001) is the single-season record, tainted or not. At the same time, 61 (Maris 1961) is a more magical number for many or even most baseball fans. And 60 (Ruth 1927) is a number that lives on despite being eclipsed seven times now.

Heck, even 50 matters, because in 13 seasons since baseball began testing for drugs in 2004 and penalizing those who were caught, only seven players have reached 50 (none have reached 60).

Stanton has 46 with more than a month to go, so barring injury, he's certain to become the eighth.

"If he falls asleep the rest of the year, he's going to hit 50," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.

And 60?

"Why not?" Mattingly said.


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Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna gave the same answer a couple weeks back about 70.

"He can get 70," Ozuna told Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. "Why not? The way he's going right now?"

When Ozuna said 70, the way Stanton was going was a home run a day, one each day for six straight games. The way he was going then, 70 had to seem possible.

It seems a little less possible now. Stanton followed his six-game streak with three homerless games, before again homering in back-to-back games Sunday and Tuesday. He entered play Thursday needing 24 home runs in 37 games to get to 70.

Even for him, that seems like a little too much. Do the math, though, and that means he needs 14 homers in 38 games to get to 60 and tie Ruth, or 16 in 37 games to get to 62 and top Maris.

In the summer of 1998, McGwire's run for 62 felt special.
In the summer of 1998, McGwire's run for 62 felt special.Bill Stover/Getty Images

So what's realistic? Well, since July 5, Stanton has started 41 games and hit 25 home runs.

So anything's possible.

"I have not seen a run of power hitting like this in my career," said Marlins catcher A.J. Ellis, who debuted in the major leagues in 2008. "Not from my team or from an opponent."

"For a month or so, he was as locked in as any hitter I've ever seen," said Marlins reliever Brad Ziegler, who came to the big leagues the same year as Ellis.

What amazes Ziegler even more is that Stanton has done all this while working with a different batting stance than the one he used for most of his career. He's more closed now, as David Adler explained in a fine story this week for MLB.com. While the new stance seems to be helping, Ziegler's point was that it's not easy to make such a significant change in the middle of the season this deep into a career.

Ziegler also has an interesting perspective on the 61 vs. 73 debate. He was in college at Missouri State in 1998, close enough to St. Louis that he couldn't avoid the McGwire hype that summer if he tried. He obviously understands what has happened since then, with revelations about McGwire's PED use and all the PED issues that surrounded Bonds, but he remembers the feeling of McGwire and Sammy Sosa and the chase for 62.

"Where the game was in '98, after the strike, we needed that," he said.

As Stanton himself pointed out in those comments last week, every home run number is the product of a great hitter but also a product of the times. Ruth hit 60 in an era before integration. Maris hit 61 the year baseball expanded and added pitchers who previously would have been in Triple-A. McGwire and Bonds hit 70 and 73 in the years before baseball began testing for steroids.

Even Stanton's 2017 number, whatever it ends up being, will be seen in the context of a season where home runs are up for everyone, with the talk of juiced baseballs that naturally comes with that.

It felt simpler two decades ago, even though it really wasn't. McGwire's run at Maris was a celebration of the game, and the week he got to 61 and then 62 was one of the most positive events (at the time) I've ever covered. Everyone was happy.

Everyone should be happy now, watching Stanton. Yes, it would be easier if he had a single number to chase, one that no one viewed as tainted. It would be easier if this all went on without any mental asterisks.

But take a step back as you follow Stanton and count the home runs over the weeks and games that remain. Or take a step forward, get a little closer to Perry Hill's perspective and just wait for the loud sound that is sure to come.

Watch and count and appreciate, because what Giancarlo Stanton is doing is something special.

"There's so many obsessed with who's best," Ziegler said. "It doesn't matter if he stops at 55. It's still a great year."

True enough. But wouldn't 60 or 62 or 73 be even greater?

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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