As we sit here today with no baseball to be played for the first time since the All-Star Break, it’s a good time to reflect on the journey that the sport has taken us on in 2019. The continuing breakout of a new group of young stars, a reinforcement of “three true outcomes” baseball, debates over the CBA, and consternation over the “juiced ball” are just a few of the many narratives that have dominated the league this year — and that’s even before we get to the actual pennant race! Amidst it all, in the final week of the season, a great thing happened in Queens.
Pete Alonso broke Aaron Judge’s rookie home run record:
❄️ ❄️ ❄️ ❄️— New York Mets (@Mets) September 29, 2019
❄️ ❄️ ❄️ ❄️
❄️ ❄️ ❄️ ❄️ pic.twitter.com/v7gUjhzDNQ
Perhaps not surprisingly, the internet immediately burst out into all kinds of arguments on the merits of the new record. Some called the record tainted, in the “juiced ball” season (forgetting that the ball was also juiced in 2017). Others criticized how Alonso embraced the chase for the record, while Judge was more focused on the playoff hunt. Seemingly every tweet or article about either the record or Judge’s reaction to it ended up with the comments section discussion arguing over which player is better, whether this year’s record should count without an asterisk, or whether Judge had an advantage in Yankee Stadium, or some other thing.
And to all that I say: .what’s the big deal?
Back in 2017, Aaron Judge chasing down Mark McGuire’s home run record was a lot of fun, but truth be told, it was about fourth or fifth on the list at the time, behind an intense divisional race, the thumbs-down movement, and the excitement of having truly relevant baseball in the Bronx for the first time since 2012. The Yankees weren’t focused on the record, and neither were the fans; it was simply one feather in the cap of a fun, exciting, and somewhat unexpected season.
For Alonso and the Mets this year, aside from a hot stretch at the beginning of August, the Mets were rarely in a spot to truly compete in the postseason hunt, and it’s kind of surprising that they ended up only three games out of the wild card by the end of the season. With Edwin Diaz’s struggles, the possibility of trading Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler (or both), clashes between team personnel and the media, and the sudden decline of Robinson Cano, Alonso’s historic season was a true bright spots for Mets fans, and by the end of the season, that record was all they really had.
Individual milestones are a part of the game, and something to be celebrated, and this one should be particularly so. When Judge broke the record, it had stood for 20 years, and was previously held by a central figure in the steroid era. This time, the record only stood for two years before it was broken, epitomizing the league’s recent youth movement. And that’s a good thing, as more broken rookie records means that there are more top rookies in the game, ready to carry the mantle of the league for the next fifteen-to-twenty years. When a record is broken, we shouldn’t bemoan the fact that “our” player’s record no longer stands, but celebrate the health and vigor of the sport.
Here’s to another rookie breaking a record next year — just hopefully not within our division!