Aaron Judge is the American League’s all-time single-season home run king. The New York Yankees superstar surpassed Roger Maris with his 62nd homer of 2022, a leadoff blast against the Texas Rangers in the penultimate game of the season.
His torrid campaign, which will almost certainly earn him an AL MVP Award, has now cemented its place in history. Judge’s 2022 stands as the all-time power standard for the storied Yankees franchise and the AL. The only question remaining is how high a bar he will set by season’s end.
A home run chase without suspicion
Many will view Judge as the game’s all-time home run standard bearer, period. The only previous seasons to surpass Maris’ 61 were mounted by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the steroid era that scintillated and then scandalized baseball in the late 90s and early 2000s.
All three of those sluggers came under strong suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs, and McGwire later admitted it.
Kevin Maris, Roger's second son, told New York Magazine during the chase that he viewed his father's 61 as the real record, and would be excited for Judge when this moment came.
“I think public opinion says that Dad really has the record," Kevin Maris said. "How can you celebrate people that have been known to cheat the game? It’s not done in any other sport. So I’d have to go with the court of public opinion."
The actual record books, though, still say Bonds' 73-homer 2001 season holds the crown. Judge, for his part, agrees. He told Sports Illustrated he considers Bonds the single-season home run king. It's worth remembering Judge grew up in Northern California while Bonds was bashing in San Francisco, and was nine years old during the 2001 season.
What do all the record books agree on? No one has reached these heights in decades. The closest any player has come was Judge’s teammate, Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers for the Miami Marlins in 2017. The closest any modern AL player had come was Alex Rodriguez’s 57-homer campaign in 2002.
The conversation about how to rank Judge’s season among the controversial all-time greats, then, is perhaps less important in this moment than the clear sky Judge has repeatedly pierced with ringing moonshots and stadium-sized roars.
Capability was never a question for Judge. This is a player who arrived in the majors — heck, arrived on this planet — built to challenge home run records. In his first full season, he won Rookie of the Year honors and pummeled 52 home runs.
Reaching his potential in sustained bursts has been the issue. This year is only the second time he has reached 600 plate appearances in a season since that rookie campaign. Under a microscope after turning down an extension offer from the Yankees ahead of the season, Judge has turned in one of the greatest contract-year performances of all time, bettering himself as a hitter in virtually every way. He's pacing MLB in on-base percentage and slugging percentage and threatening to claim the Triple Crown in the AL.
He has led in homers and RBIs for much of the season, of course, but a batting title didn’t seem to be in the cards as late as August. Then — amid the constant thrum of his power output, and the constant pressure of carrying a Yankees offense that slumped into a heap around his shoulders in August — Judge also found time to pursue improvement.
“I saw a lot of the greats — Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera — they always hit above .300 and the power just came with it,” Judge said in late July, when his batting average sat at .294. “That’s always been a goal of mine to hit above .300 and we’ll keep working towards it.”
So while the stature of Judge’s home run total might require some mental sorting among steroid-clouded forebears, the import of his greatness this year is refreshingly plain. He’s on track to become just the third active player with a 10-WAR season, joining Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. He’s pacing for the best overall offensive output, by park-adjusted OPS+, in a full season since Barry Bonds.
Whether its rigorous PED testing or the constant pulse of Statcast numbers or the sheer logic of a 6-foot-7 goliath in pinstripes hitting baseballs far, the pinnacle of the Aaron Judge experience feels like a phenomenon that can be thoroughly savored — explainable without being expected.
The best of Judge’s historic 2022 homers
There have been so many homers. Let's relive some of the most memorable. Ever a player of measurables, we'll take stock of his homers in quantifiable superlatives.
Longest: Early in the season, there was much discussion of the Baltimore Orioles' deeper left-field fence and how it might be containing the Yankees. Part of that fury was stoked by Judge himself, who in May called the changes to Camden Yards were "a travesty" after the deeper wall cost him a three-homer game.
"I'm pretty upset," Judge told MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "It just looks like a Create-A-Park now."
By July, he found a solution. Just hit one 465 feet — way, way over the wall.
465 ft.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 23, 2022
The wall is no match for The Judge. pic.twitter.com/GKq72l8HQZ
Shortest: Hitting this many homers in one year requires at least a few borderline fly balls to go your way. So we tip our cap to the homer that just made it over, an opposite-field wall-scraper against the White Sox that no one knew would be the 12th in a very significant season of roundtrippers.
Hardest: Clawing back from their lowest point after a dreadful August swoon, the Yankees swept a two-game set against the Mets partially thanks to a cathartic, supersonic blast from Judge.
Justice is served.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) August 24, 2022
453 ft for Homer 48 👨⚖️ pic.twitter.com/QrhyxISLlo
His 48th home run of the season left the park at an eye-watering 115.9 mph. It allowed Yankees fans — and perhaps the team — to breathe for at least a moment after weeks of pressure buildup.
Most important: You could make a good case for that shot against the Mets, but by Win Probability Added and Championship Win Probability Added, Judge's most significant long ball came against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 10.
It was your classic backyard baseball fantasy: The Yankees were down two with two men on in the bottom of the ninth. He walked it off with a towering homer down the left field line. That put them up four games in the AL East and kickstarted a run of winning that put what was thought to be a competitive division out of reach for much of the summer.
Is there other history on the line?
Beyond the Triple Crown chase, Judge has also flown 20 homers clear of second place on the MLB home run leaderboard at times, a feat not seen since 1928.
His 11 multi-homer games in 2022 are also tied with Sammy Sosa (1998) and Hank Greenberg (1938) for the most in a single season. He has been pouring on homers in bunches, crushing Nos. 56 and 57 in one game against the Red Sox, then Nos. 58 and 59 in a game against the Brewers.