The Yankees’ single-season home run record became a talking point last year when Aaron Judge broke it by hitting 62 dingers over the course of the season. Of course, it was a bigger deal than that because it was also the AL record and the first time someone had topped 60 in two decades, and just the ninth time ever.
However, let’s focus on the Yankees’ record portion of that for now. You can probably name the previous record holders, and not just because we spent a long time last season talking about who Judge passed. Since the arrival of Babe Ruth, through Roger Maris, and until the home run boom of the late 90s/early 00s, the overall MLB single-season record was always in the hands of a Yankee. The 62 that Judge hit saw him go past several famous numbers. But that wasn’t always the case with the Yankees’ franchise record.
In honor of Judge’s 2022, let’s chart back through the history of the Yankees’ single-season home run record, all the way back to the amusingly small numbers that it used to be.
Aaron Judge - 62 home runs (2022)
We’ll go in reverse order and started with what we just saw. It was pretty fun to follow, if I do say so myself.
Roger Maris - 61 (1961)
A season that has been immortalized in many ways, including a movie. Between who he was passing for what was then the overall record, his “battle” with teammate Mickey Mantle for the mark, and the games played asterisk for the new 162-game season length, Maris’ 61 in ‘61 has been arguably one of the most talked about seasons of all time.
Babe Ruth - 60 (1927)
Babe Ruth - 59 (1921)
Babe Ruth - 54 (1920)
We’ve now reached the Babe Ruth portion of this exercise. Not only did Ruth set the Yankees’ single-season record three times, all of these years also broke the overall MLB record. The 54 he hit in his very first season as a Yankee in 1920 nearly doubled the previous MLB single-season record. That record had previously been set by, well, Ruth. In 1919, his last year before the Red Sox infamously sold him to the Yankees, Ruth had slugged 29 while still pitching prior to his full time conversion to an outfielder. The very idea of people hitting more than just a dozen or even less than that, which had been the norm prior to Ruth starting his exploits, in season came about in large part thanks to the Babe.
Wally Pipp - 12 (1916)
That’s right, we’ve reached the funny portion of these home run totals. Ruth’s very first season as a Yankee in 1920 more than quintupled the franchise record for the most in a season. Also, shoutout to poor Wally Pipp. This isn’t even the most notable way in which he would be usurped by a Yankee legend.
Patsy Dougherty - 6 (1904)/John Ganzel 6 - (1904)/Jimmy Williams - 6 (1905)
We’re now all the way fully back in the dead-ball era and when the mark didn’t even crack single digits. In the second and third ever seasons in Yankees’ history — when they were still the Highlanders — Dougherty, Ganzel, and Williams all “slugged” six homers in a year, tying for and holding the record until Pipp a little more than a decade later. Home runs were so not even part of baseball at that point that Williams’ 1905 rated as a below average hitting season according to OPS+, and Ganzel didn’t even return to the Highlanders, and didn’t appear in the majors again until 1907.
Herm McFarland - 5 (1903)
All records have to start somewhere, and the Yankees’ single-season home run record begins with McFarland and the first ever season in franchise history. His five dingers in 1903 accounted for 27.8% of the team’s 18. Despite setting a positive franchise record, McFarland straight up never played another major league game after the 1903, which is funny to think about.
Are there arguments against the way baseball is played today and the amount of home runs that are hit? Sure. However, if we’re picking between 62 and five, I’ll take 62.
All data courtesy of Baseball Reference Stathead