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Hok Talk: A record is a record

It’s pointless to debate about the “real” home run record. It’s right there in the books.

Aaron Judge admires a home run ball while following through on his swing
Aaron Judge’s work is impressive, but it probably won’t set the record some people wish it did.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Way, way back in 2001 and 2003 there were very similar arguments being had by fans of the American League. Did Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and Hideki Matsui in 2003 deserve to have a shot at Rookie of the Year awards? The people arguing against them largely seemed to have ulterior motives in the forms of other players they preferred get the award. That was certainly true of Royals fans in 2003 with Angel Berroa playing his rookie season for KC.

As it turns out, the arguments are all moot. Ichiro did win the award in 2001 and while Matsui came in second - to Berroa no less! - the votes he received were officially recorded and he will forever be known as the 2003 RoY Runner-up. You see, it isn’t up to us fans to decide these things. MLB is the authority over its own records. And that brings us back to Aaron Judge.

As of this writing, Aaron Judge has 55 home runs on the season. An astonishing number to be sure. He’s almost certain to break the Yankees’ single-season record of 61 set by Roger Maris. What he is unlikely to do is to break the MLB single-season record of 73 set by Barry Bonds. This has led to some people arguing whether or not Bonds’ record should count and whether Judge might hold the “real” record when he’s done (fans willing to dismiss Bonds seem equally willing to ignore all the home runs hit by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.) This is a dumb argument. Like it or not, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001. They were legally hit in official MLB games. MLB has not stricken those home runs from the record - which is likely a far more complicated exercise than you assume - and so they officially count. If Judge mashes 19 home runs in the month of September he can have the MLB home run record. Otherwise, he’ll be behind at least Bonds and probably Sosa and McGwire, too. That’s just the way records work.

Rule changes are coming to MLB next year

MLB announced yesterday a set of three new rules that will be implemented next season. I’d just like to take a moment here to run my victory lap for successfully predicting exactly the rules which will be implemented next year. I already said what I have to say about the rules, so let me pull back the curtain a bit on sportswriting predictions, instead.

At their very best, a sports prediction is simply making an educated guess. Alongside that, sportswriting is, first and foremost, an entertainment business. Or, it was until sports betting exploded back onto the scene, anyway. But most sportswriters still treat it as entertainment because that’s how they’ve always done it. Finally, so far as I am aware, there is no penalty for guessing wrong. All of that means that sometimes making a prediction is more complicated than looking at all of the available data and choosing the most likely outcome.

This is why you’ll see a bunch of NFL pundits suggesting that the Chiefs might not win the AFC West this year. It’s not that that’s the likeliest outcome. It’s also not because they necessarily truly believe that all the factors that could lead KC’s football team losing more games than another AFC West rival will come to pass. It’s just as likely because they simply think it’s boring to pick the Chiefs to win the division again, and they feel they can make a reasonable argument against it.

So keep that in mind the next time you hear a prediction that seems patently ridiculous to you. It’s entirely probable that the sports commentator in question also thinks it’s unlikely but wanted to say something different in order to provide you with more entertainment. Also, the nature of educated guesses and the massive range of outcomes in sports means that whenever we do get one right, we almost all feel the need to crow about it.