NEW YORK (AFP) — New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge smashed his 62nd home run of the season to finally surpass the legendary Roger Maris’s long-standing American League record.
Judge, who matched Maris’ record in Toronto last week, blasted a 391-foot bomb into the stands at the Texas Rangers’ Choctaw Stadium in the top of the first inning in Arlington.
The 30-year-old slugger had been stuck on 61 homers since pulling level with Maris, failing to better the record during a weekend homestand at Yankee Stadium.
Two more fruitless appearances followed during Monday’s road opener against the Rangers, as well as the opening game of Tuesday’s double-header.
But Judge made no mistake as he led off the hitting in Tuesday’s evening game, crushing the third pitch faced from Rangers pitcher Jesus Tinoco.
A packed house rose to give Judge a standing ovation as he rounded the bases to be greeted by delighted teammates at home plate.
“It’s a big relief,” Judge said after setting the record with just one more regular season game remaining on Wednesday.
“Everybody can finally sit down in their seats now and watch the ball game. It’s been a fun ride so far.”
“And getting the chance to do this with my teammates, the constant support from my family. It’s been a great honor.”
Meanwhile, Judge’s 62nd home run ball was scooped up by a fan in the stands who now stands to earn a multi-million-dollar payday. The ball has been conservatively valued at around $2 million.
Judge said he would like to eventually receive the ball but did not begrudge the spectator who grabbed the instantly valuable piece of memorabilia.
“I don’t know where the ball’s at, so we’ll see what happens with that,” Judge said.
“It would have been great to get it back but that’s a souvenir for a fan. They made a great catch out there and they’ve got every right to it.”
The American League record set by Maris in the 1961 season stood as the outright Major League Baseball single season home run record until it fell during the sport’s steroid era of the late 1990s.
Only three men — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — have ever hit more home runs in a season, and all three have been tainted by allegations of steroid use.
San Francisco Giants legend Bonds holds the official Major League Baseball home run record of 73 set in the 2001 season.
The son of Roger Maris — Roger Maris Jr. — is among many who have called for Judge’s record to be recognized as the “legitimate” single-season home run record.
“I think that’s what needs to happen,” Maris Jr. said last week.
“I think baseball needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something.”
On Tuesday, Maris Jr. returned to that theme in a post on Twitter congratulating Judge.
“You are all class and someone who should be revered,” Maris Jr. wrote.
“For the majority of the fans, we can now celebrate a new clean home run king!”
Despite the growing clamor to recognize Judge’s single-season record as the legitimate record, Judge distanced himself from the debate, insisting he regards Bonds’ record as the “real” mark.
“73 is the record in my book,” Judge said in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated.
“No matter what people want to say about that era of baseball, for me, they went out there and hit 73 homers and that to me is what the record is,” added Judge, who grew up in Northern California as a fan of Bonds and the Giants.