Talk about returning baseball’s single-season home run title to the Bronx began in the offseason, as soon as defending NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton was acquired via trade from the Marlins. Stanton clubbed 59 homers in 2017, becoming only the sixth player in MLB history to hit that mark. With Stanton joining Aaron Judge in a revamped lineup, fans salivated over the potentially historic long-ball tally the Bombers might put up in 2018. Judge led the AL with 52 homers en route to his unanimous Rookie of the Year Award selection last season.
The Bombers blasted their way to a hot start, with Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez joining Stanton and Judge on an early-season pace to hit over 40 home runs piece. The team went on to belt a record 161 homers before the All-Star break.
Pursuit of the team home run record appeared to suffer a setback when all four sluggers were bitten by the injury bug. Judge (broken wrist), Sanchez (groin), and Gregorius (heel) all went on the disabled list, while Stanton has been trying to play through a tight hamstring for weeks. What could have been a serious blow to the Yankees’ World Series aspirations also represented an opportunity for other players to step up and fill the void — and many have answered the bell.
Serving mostly as the team’s primary designated hitter, Stanton bashed nine home runs in the first 22 games after Judge went on the DL. More recently, the first-base tandem of Greg Bird and newly-acquired Luke Voit combined to club five homers over the last eight games. Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka have hit a total of eight home runs since Sanchez was sidelined in late June. The team’s catching trio has homered a total of 26 times this season.
Miguel Andujar has been a steady hand all season. His 21 homers stand among a long list of accomplishments that have catapulted Andujar into the pole position for the ROY race. Fellow rookie Gleyber Torres struggled after his DL stint, but last night belted his 20th home run of the year. For the first time in franchise history, the Yankees boast a pair of rookies with 20 or more dingers. The feat has been accomplished only seven previous times in baseball history.
Torres is the sixth Yankee to hit 20 or more homers in 2018. Nine players have already reached double figures, with Neil Walker (8) and Romine (9) knocking on the door. Aaron Hicks (21), Brett Gardner (11), and Bird (11) are the others.
Despite all the injuries, the Yankees’ 1.72 home runs per game in August is slightly higher than their 1.62 season average. Entering today’s action, New York is on pace to hit 263 home runs, which is one shy of the record 264 by the Seattle Mariners in 1997. With injured players on the mend, and the team in hot pursuit of MLB’s best record, the Bombers are also in prime position to challenge Seattle’s home run mark.
The Yankees wasted no time in establishing the modern record in 1920, when Babe Ruth bashed 54 of the team’s 115 home runs during his first year in pinstripes. Bob Meusel contributed 24 along with Ruth’s 59 the next season, as the team mark improved to 134. The Bombers broke their own record yet again, when the Murderer’s Row lineup hit 158 homers in ‘27.
The club home run mark passed to the Cubs (1930) and then the Athletics (‘32), until the Lou Gehrig (49) and Joe DiMaggio (29) led Yankees retook it in ‘36. The New York Giants hit 221 homers in ‘47, and they were matched by the Reds in ‘56.
It was during the magical summer of ‘61 when the Yankees clubbed 240 home runs to bring the crown home to the Bronx. The team was on a mission, having suffered a heartbreaking World Series loss on Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff homer the previous October. Mickey Mantle (54) and Roger Maris (61) chased Babe Ruth’s individual home run mark all summer, with the catching duo of Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard each contributing 21 long balls to the team record.
That record stood as the gold standard for 35 years, until a trio of teams broke it in 1996. Oakland (243) and Seattle (245) were bested by Baltimore (257), but the Orioles’ mark only lasted one year. The record-breaking Mariners club, led by Ken Griffey Jr. (56), Jay Buhner (40), and Paul Sorrento (31), boasted a lineup which saw all nine starters hit double-digit homers.
It seems fitting that the Yankees are poised to return baseball’s single-season home run title to the Bronx after an absence of 21 years. Having held that mark for most of the 20th century, the franchise now possesses the talent that evokes memories of some of the all-time greats who contributed to the club’s previous long ball marks. It’s also very appropriate that the current squad is doing it while on a quest to capture another championship.