Never shy to share a controversial opinion, Jon Heyman wrote in today’s column at CBS Sports that “most straight thinkers consider [Roger Maris] the legitimate single-season home-run record holder for his hallowed 61 home runs in 1961”. With 33 home runs through his team’s first 89 games, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is on pace for 60 over 162 games.
Barry Bonds currently holds the actual single-season home run record at 73. Mark McGwire had two seasons in which he surpassed the 61 home runs of Maris (70 in 1998, 65 in 1999) and Sammy Sosa had three (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001, and 63 in 1999). All three have been implicated in some fashion with participating in the drug culture that permeated baseball throughout the late 1980’s, 1990’s, and early 2000’s.
The rewriting of steroid era history only goes as far as the offense, however. Writers are happy to whitewash the accomplishments of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and others, but don’t to the extra mile in abdicating their teams of regular season and post-season wins, their pitchers of individual wins, the batters who hit in front of them of runs and the batters behind them of runs batted in. Nor do they recognize that Maris hit his 61 home runs to claim the record in 161 games, ten more than Babe Ruth needed when he hit 60 1927.
I don’t have an issue with creating your own narrative, since baseball fandom is ultimately creating a personal narrative. But if you’re a writer attempting to influence public opinion and affect the trajectory of players’ places in history, you have to be consistent and fair with your ultimately arbitrary criteria.
The real crime here, however, is the continued marriage by writers of Davis and performance-enhancing moralizing and speculation. Davis has passed every drug test he has taken and has never been accused of cheating by anyone with any credibility. To continue to use him as a jumping-off point to impugn Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and others is extremely unfair to Davis, who has worked incredibly hard to improve from a below-average hitter to baseball’s best hitter through 55 percent of the season.