The Baseball Theory of Relativity

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For Major League Baseball, 2017 has been a season of extremes. The Los Angeles Dodgers went on an extraordinary tear, winning 84 percent of the time during one 67-game stretch. Then they pulled a U-ie and lost all but one of their next 17 games. The Cleveland Indians entered the weekend Friday night having triumphed in 22 straight games, an American League record.

Much of the baseball world’s attention, though, is on a single player: Giancarlo Stanton, who plays right field for the Miami Marlins. He has been hitting home runs at a pace worthy of Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” — 54 of them going into the weekend. That has put him at the center of intriguing debates among the sport’s devotees.

Photo

Giancarlo Stanton hitting a two run home run against the Los Angeles Angels in May.

Credit
Mike Ehrmann/

If there’s one thing that die-hard fans love more than baseball, it’s arguing about baseball. The question about Mr. Stanton is what to do should he hit 62 homers, a challenging goal with only two weeks left in the regular season but one nonetheless within sight. He would top an old record of 61 established in 1961 by Roger Maris, who surpassed the 60 that Babe Ruth hit in 1927.

Hang on, you may be saying. Isn’t the real record well out of reach — the 73 homers that Barry Bonds hit in 2001? That is so. But Mr. Bonds has long labored under suspicions that he sailed to his 73 on a tide of performance-enhancing drugs. A similar taint clings to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, both of whom also outdid Maris in the steroid-fueled 1990s and early 2000s.

So an argument heard in some baseball-watching circles is that if Mr. Stanton hits 62, he deserves to be recognized as the real record-holder — a man who, like Maris, is unsullied by intimations of skulduggery.

Time now for another favorite pastime of baseball fans: whataboutery.

What about the fact that ballparks are smaller today and thus cozier for power hitters than they used to be? Oh yeah, what about Maris hitting his 61 in a longer season than Ruth had, and at a time when pitching strength was diluted by major league expansion? Oh yeah, what about Ruth having it easier because he never had to face great pitchers like Satchel Paige or Bob Gibson because blacks couldn’t play in the big leagues then?



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