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Here Comes the Judge

June 3, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Last week Aaron Judge, the talented, young outfielder of the New York Yankees, hit his 14th home run of the season. The next morning, I read on the USA Today website that Judge made history with that homer; it was the 70th for his career, and he reached that number faster than any other player in the history of baseball.

I’m not sure when Major League Baseball decided that reaching 70 home runs in a career is a major milestone. I grew up reading articles about which players were the youngest to hit 100 home runs, but I have no recollection of 70 home runs being any sort of magical or impressive number.

Magical or not, Judge’s 70th home run came in his 231st game, besting Ryan Howard, who needed 233 games to reach that mark.

© T.C.G.

Judge hit four home runs in 27 games in 2016 and 52 in 155 games last year on the way to becoming the American League Rookie of the Year. He is an amazing talent, and we likely have seen only the beginning of what will be a career full of milestone home runs. But is he really the fastest to 70 home runs? I suppose that depends on how one defines the term “fastest.”

Judge was 26 years, 30 days old when he smacked his 70th home run. Mel Ott of the New York Giants, at 22 years, 132 days, is the youngest player to reach 100 home runs, so I figured he must have been quite a whippersnapper when he hit his 70th. In fact, Ott was only 21 years, 82 days old when he reached the mark with his ninth homer of the 1930 season, but it took him 422 games to get there. By the time Ott was 26 years, 30 days old, he already had 211 career home runs, and he finished his career in 1947 with 511.

© T.C.G.

Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox, at 22 years, 197 days, is the youngest player in American League history to reach 100 home runs. Conigliaro was only 21 years, 168 days old when he reached 70 with his 14th homer of the 1966 season, but it took him 315 games to do it. Conigliaro had 160 homers by the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, and he missed a big part of the 1967 season and all of 1968 after getting hit in the eye with a fastball. Sadly, Conigliaro finished his career with only 166 home runs.

For a little more perspective, it took Henry Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run leader*, 437 games to hit his first 70 home runs, but Aaron was only 23 years, 78 days old when he did it. By the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, Aaron already had 179 home runs; he finished his career with 755 homers.

Then, of course, you cannot have a discussion about career home runs without considering the “Big Bambino,” “The Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth. Ruth began his career as a pitcher in 1914 with the Red Sox, so he got a late start toward his 714 home runs. Still, Ruth hit his 70th home run in 1920 at the age of 25 years, 140 days; by then, he was with the New York Yankees. It took Ruth 447 games to hit 70 home runs. By the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, he had 103 homers.

Judge clearly hit his first 70 home runs in the fewest numbers of games, so he got there faster than any previous player; however, he is behind the pace of many previous sluggers for career home runs at his age.

Hopefully, Judge will stay healthy and play several more years. With his first 70 home runs behind him, he needs only 684 more (he has hit two more homers since reaching 70) to become baseball’s new home run leader. And if he can hit 643 more home runs in fewer than 9,604 plate appearances, he will supplant Babe Ruth as baseball’s Home Run King.

(all statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com and retrosheet.org).

*This blog does not recognize the career totals of those players who obviously used performance-enhancing drugs.

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