NFL, NBA offer free access to past games. MLB should follow their lead.

MLB.tv
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Update, March 22: Over the weekend (March 20), MLB announced that fans can watch every game from 2018 and ’19 for free on MLB.tv. Hooray!

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On Wednesday, both the NFL and the NBA announced that, as a way to encourage fans to practice social distancing amid Coronavirus (COVID-19), they are offering free access to past games. For the NFL, this is through NFL Game Pass. For the NBA, this is through NBA League Pass.

NFL Game Pass offers full, commercial-free broadcasts of preseason, regular season, and playoff games from 2009-19 as well as condensed 45-minute replays. Furthermore, fans can access various camera angles, film sessions, and film breakdowns. NBA League Pass offers full and condensed replays of games from the 2019-20 season along with an archive of classic games.

MLB has yet to do the same, though they are giving away some digital copies of MLB The Show 20, a video game that was just released. The league should follow the NFL and NBA’s lead and offer fans free access to MLB.tv to encourage social distancing. It costs the league next to nothing and can be a great way to maintain fan interest in a time when their attention can be diverted into any number of other directions. Additionally, it can be a great way to rope in new fans.

As much as I hate to admit this, since I am from the Philadelphia area, there was a time in the late 1990’s when I had a soft spot for the Braves. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones were my favorite players to watch for a while, not just because they were incredibly skilled and entertaining (and the Phillies were terrible), but because Braves games were always on cable TV (TBS) — free for me to watch as a fan, as long as my parents paid their cable bill. I watched as many Braves games as Phillies games back then.

MLB should have been relaxing restrictions to games years ago, but it doubly should now. According to a MarketWatch article posted several years ago, baseball has the oldest audience among the four major sports and saw the average age of its viewers rise from 52 in 2000 and ’06 to 57 in ’16. The only sports with older viewers on average are golf, horse racing, tennis, and NASCAR.

Kids are home from school for at least a couple weeks and it might be longer. If they had free access to MLB.tv, mom and dad could put their kids in front of the TV or computer monitor with Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS on and get another generation potentially invested in baseball. It’s also the responsible thing to do right now, encouraging fans to stay home and practice social distancing.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.