Baseball, Sports

Albert Pujols and Aaron Judge are making history without chasing it

The last half-decade of big league baseball has been riddled with sweeping rulebook changes, suspensions, and blockbuster trades that have kept the sport in constant flux. Amidst the chaos, one of baseball’s purest elements—the home run—has convincingly held its place at the core of the sport. The 2019 season alone saw four teams shatter the previous single-season home run record of 267, with the Minnesota Twins leading the way at 307. Now, three seasons later, Albert Pujols and Aaron Judge are close to inscribing their own names into the long ball history books. 

Pujols, now in his 22nd and final season, sat just two home runs shy of 700 heading into the Sept. 23 matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With one bomb in the second inning and another in the fourth, Pujols joined Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds in Major League Baseball’s highly exclusive 700 Home Run Club

Judge, not to be overshadowed by the greatness of his elder statesmen, sits at 60 homers and needs just one more to tie Roger Maris’ single-season record with the Yankees. If Judge reaches the magic number 61, this would put him seventh on the all-time dinger list and first among players with a clean performance-enhancing drug record. These historic seasons have not been in vain either, as both Pujols’ St. Louis Cardinals and Judge’s New York Yankees sit atop their respective divisions with less than two weeks of regular-season baseball remaining.

In a league with a 146-year history, it can be easy to get lost in the prestige of the record books, but the reality is that these historic pursuits by Pujols and Judge are unfolding in front of our very eyes with legitimate implications heading into October. As tempting as it is to fixate on the record-breaking numbers themselves, the nightly performances that have defined this season for Pujols and Judge deserve their own close attention. Pujols’ 695th career homer was a two-run, pinch-hit blast that broke a 0-0 stalemate in the bottom of the eighth against the Chicago Cubs. Judge’s 60th homer was part of a five-run ninth inning that gave the Yankees their 89th win of the season and allowed them to regain a comfortable lead in a highly competitive American League East division. Pujols and the Cards are eyeing a return to the glory of their 2011 World Series win, while Judge and the Yankees seem dead set on ring number 28.

Regardless of what takes place between now and game one of the playoffs, the 2022 MLB season has been historic. Two generational talents—one well into his prime and eyeing a triple crown, the other a clear-cut hall of famer on an impressive farewell tour—are moving towards the mammoths that came before them. Every game has become a spectacle, every at-bat a chance to earn immortality in baseball’s record books. And yet, Pujols and Judge don’t seem to be as enamoured with the historical context as the rest of us. Despite announcing that 2022 would be his final season, Pujols himself made it clear that he’s not chasing anything at this point in his career. After all, he’s a two-time World Series champ, a three-time National League MVP, and a six-time Silver Slugger award recipient who quite literally has nothing left to prove. For Judge, the individual accolades are no doubt sweet, but as a Yankee, winning will always be the ultimate end. 

In an era spoiled with so much talent, it is easy for baseball fans to overlook the gravity of the two stars’ remarkable athletic feats. Numbers and record books aside, what Albert Pujols and Aaron Judge have accomplished and continue to accomplish is worthy of our praise and attention. As Judge continues his superstar ascent and Pujols marches into October for one final run at a ring, we should all pay close attention to the fleeting moments of baseball history that may lie ahead.

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