In Monday’s game between the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals, rookie outfielder Aaron Judge etched his name into the history books: He became the first player to hit 50 home runs in his rookie season, surpassing Mark McGwire’s mark of 49 for the Oakland Athletics in 1987.
Judge’s season has been truly historic—and may win him American League MVP honors, despite a terrible slump after the All-Star break. The fact remains that no power hitter has ever had a better start to their career than Judge.
This is a sign of the times for Major League Baseball; the long ball is back in a big way. This year, the league shattered its record for most home runs in a season. With left fielder Alex Gordon’s home run for the Royals on Sept. 19th, the 2017 MLB season set the record with its 5,694th home run.
Considering how much of the season is left, this number is unheard of. This record is not just broken: it is shattered. Pedro Gomez of ESPN noted this year’s MLB is on pace to hit 2,000 more home runs than just three years ago.
Baseball has had some problems in recent years—games are too slow, attendance is down and people are generally becoming bored. The new brand of baseball emerging is reminiscent of baseball in the ‘90s and ‘00s—back when sluggers like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and McGwire hit home run after home run.
Sure, there was plenty of controversy that filled this era. The league had a performance enhancing drug problem that is well documented as fact at this point. Many people even consider Bonds’ home run title to be illegitimate, given his presumed—and judicially confirmed—steroid use.
Regardless of these controversies, baseball was great back then. The fans loved the brand of the game. Home runs are exciting—and fans love excitement. This season has brought the excitement of this foregone era back. Baseball is becoming younger, faster, more streamlined and more fun to watch; this all starts with the home run.
Baseball is unique in that every second of the game is worth watching. There is no game clock and there are no whistles—but today’s sports fans need more excitement. It is difficult to compete with the markets and the speed of the National Football League or the National Basketball Association. For baseball, this is the first step.
With players like Judge, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout leading the charge, the MLB is well on its way to a renaissance.
We are looking at a completely new era of baseball if this trend continues. More balls are leaving the park; more players are hitting 20 or more home runs per season. That means that pitchers will simply have to adapt to the changing circumstances. Baseball fans are now getting to see these younger players develop. If his first season is any indication, Judge and his colleagues will be lighting up the league for years to come.