Biden hosts baseball champion Dodgers at White House

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden praised sports’ ability to heal and bring a nation together in a time of crisis as he hosted the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers at the White House on Friday.

The Dodgers, who captured the title by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays last October, were the first team to be honored at the White House since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first since Biden took office.

“I think what we discovered is that we need sports more than we ever realized,” said Biden, who praised baseball as an important totem of normalcy in “one of the most challenging years” in the nation’s history.

The president saluted the Dodgers as “a lot more than a baseball club, they are a pillar of American culture.” He also praised the team for using its stadium as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site.

The ceremony marked the latest step in the White House’s efforts to return to large in-person events as it seeks to highlight the nation’s emergence from the pandemic. More than 50 members of the team attended the East Room event as well as a number of political heavyweights with California ties, including Vice President Kamala Harris, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Biden kept the mood light, teasing that he didn’t want to dwell on the fact that Harris roots for the Dodgers’ long-standing rival, the San Francisco Giants. He also told stories about his own exploits in a congressional baseball game, saying he hit a ball off the wall that thrilled his sons more than any of his political accomplishments.

Clayton Kershaw, the team’s future Hall of Fame pitcher, presented Biden with what has become the standard gift: a jersey emblazoned on the back with the president’s name and number. Biden, the 46th commander in chief, joked that he was demonstrating that he was “a man of courage” by holding the jersey up because he risked incurring the wrath of First Lady Jill Biden, a rabid Philadelphia Phillies fan.

The jubilant ceremony bore few of the political overtones that became a hallmark of teams’ visits during the presidency of Donald Trump. Some champions, like the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia Eagles, skipped being honored at the White House. Others, like the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox, only sent limited delegations, with many players opting to stay home.

Pitcher Trevor Bauer, who has a protection order against him for allegedly assaulting a woman during what he says was consensual sex, did not attend the event. He has denied the allegations.

The Dodgers, who are in town for a four-game series with the Washington Nationals, said only members of the 2020 World Series team would attend, and Bauer didn’t sign with the team until this year. Later Friday, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner was placed on seven-day administrative leave by Major League Baseball.

Mookie Betts, the star outfielder for the 2018 champion Red Sox, did not make that team’s trip to the White House. But Betts, now on the Dodgers, did attend Friday.

Trump also became known for serving fast food to the teams that did visit the executive mansion; details on any meals consumed by the Dodgers at the White House were not immediately released.

The 2020 title was the Dodgers’ seventh World Series championship and they are among the favorites again this year, prompting Biden to joke that he may see them again.

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.