NEW YORK – Chris Davis may think 61 is the real single-season home run record. He doesn’t have much company among his fellow players.
Of 15 All-Stars surveyed by Yahoo! Sports and asked a simple question – what is the home run record, Roger Maris’ 61 or Barry Bonds’ 73? – their response was almost unanimous: 73.
From two-time home run champion Jose Bautista to slugger Prince Fielder to Davis’ friend and teammate Adam Jones, 14 players said that no matter Bonds’ ties to performance-enhancing drugs, the record is his. Only one, Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, said he would consider 61 the record.
The near-agreement of the players included a common phrase: “He hit them over the fence.” Which is to say even if Bonds’ alleged steroid regimen helped turn him into a baseball superman, the sheer achievement of hitting 73 home runs in 2001 was too magnificent to pretend like it didn’t happen.
Davis has been vehement in denying his use of performance-enhancing drugs as he pummeled 37 home runs over 95 first-half games for the Baltimore Orioles. Earlier this week, Davis told The Baltimore Sun he believed the record belonged to Maris, a contention he echoed again at Citi Field before Monday’s Home Run Derby.
“I hadn’t really given it much thought until this year, and after everything came out, I assumed 61 was the record,” Davis said. “I think it’s what a lot of fans would agree on. Regardless, 73 home runs is ridiculous, especially in the ballpark he was playing in.”
Bonds broke the three-year-old record of 70 set by Mark McGwire, who later admitted to using PEDs. The only other player to top 61, Sammy Sosa, reportedly failed a drug test during the 2003 season. Davis’ spectacular season has renewed the debate, one that’s not altogether new. Back in 1961, when Maris hit 61, the debate was whether it deserved an asterisk because he needed 162 games to beat Babe Ruth’s record 60 in 154 games.
Davis’ case puts the home run record well within reach. At his current pace, he would hit 63 and catapult him among all-time sluggers, something inconceivable for a player who two years ago was dumped in a trade by the Texas Rangers because they worried he never would develop into an everyday player.
Now Davis is the toast of All-Star weekend, touting how he’s doing this without drugs, taking attention away from the looming PED suspensions related to the Biogenesis clinic.
“If Chris feels like 61 is the home run record, maybe he’s just selfishly pegging that number as the home run record so if he passes it he can wear a crown or something like that,” Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. “There would be a lot of money in that.”
Votto speaks the truth. Davis received more All-Star votes than any player this season. Baseball’s Clean Hope is a gold mine. Baseball’s Clean Home Run Champion is a diamond mine.
“You want to see records broken,” Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said. “Hopefully Chris Davis can write a new one. The way he’s hitting the ball is amazing, and that ballpark is a perfect fit for him. His first half is unreal. It’s cool to see him doing what he’s doing.”
Still, Davis’ contemporaries are far from ready to declare him royalty for finishing the season with a home run total starting with a six.
“Definitely the old-school guys are gonna say 61,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “But I almost might have to join them on 73, because when you start talking to players around the game, guys who played before you, I don’t think [Bonds] was the only one doing [PEDs]. I don’t think the pitchers were guilt-free, either, from what I hear. He was a product of his era. That’s what was going around the game at the time.
“You can put an asterisk there. You can do whatever you want. Fact is, the guy hit 73 home runs. Steroids were not hitting the baseball for him. It was impressive to watch, and you can’t take it away from him. The guy did it.”
Players today still marvel at it. Davis hit 37 home runs in 343 first-half at-bats – one every 9.3 at-bats. Bonds hit 73 in 476 – one every 6.5. Davis is halfway through an all-time great season. It pales compared to Bonds’ 2001.
“What Barry did that year was so incredible,” Tigers starter Justin Verlander said. “He only saw maybe one pitch a game, and he hit it out 73 times. It’s pretty incredible.”
Zobrist’s argument against Bonds, McGwire and Sosa centers on PED use – and even he hedged a little by calling Maris’ total the “natural record.”
“If it was proven the other guys who have all gone over 61 were all using performance-enhancing substances at that time – if it was proven – yeah, I’d have to say the natural record is 61,” Zobrist said.
Certainly others in baseball agree with Zobrist, though the cross-section of players in the survey – nine hitters, six pitchers; seven from the NL, eight from the AL; eight players with at least six years’ experience, seven yet to reach free agency – was enough to show the elite are happy with the record, tainted or not.
“I see that 73 is in the record book,” Bautista said, “so that’s the record.”
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