Life was simpler in 1979. As a relatively new card collector and baseball fan, I never had to wonder about baseball’s home run records. Whether I flipped over card 413 or opened one of my baseball books, the lists all showed the same names and faces.

Not only didn’t I question either of these lists (single season and career), but I couldn’t even imagine there was anything to question. 61 is more than 60 or 59 just as 755 is quite a bit more than 714. That’s just basic math.

Of course, the more I read, the more I learned that these lists had in fact come with their share of debate. Famously, some fans felt the Roger Maris record didn’t count or should be counted differently in that his 61 required a 162 game schedule while the Bambino accomplished his feat in a 154-game season. Less pronounced but still present was a belief that while Aaron obviously hit more home runs than Ruth, he required far more plate appearances to do so. Therefore, such racial statistical reasoning went, Aaron might nominally hold the record, but Ruth would forever remain the true “home run king.”

Over time, such dissenting voices seemed to quiet and fade though I can’t say they ever disappeared. Still, a good decade after the 1979 Topps card was issued, anyone claiming Topps put the wrong guys on the front would represent a fringe faction at best. If I did hear about these records belonging to anyone other than Aaron and Maris, the name offered would not be that of George Herman Ruth. Rather, I would hear about Sadaharu Oh’s 868 career roundtrippers in Japan or Josh Gibson’s prodigious home run feats in the Negro Leagues: easily 75 or more home runs in a season and perhaps as many as 900 in his great career. That said, these players and their achievements tended to be brought up as footnotes, trivia, or novelties. “The records belong to Aaron and Maris, but did you know…?”

Across the books I read, the broadcasts I listened to, and the friends I interacted with, there was a healthy admiration and respect for Oh and Gibson but ultimately a dismissiveness when it came to their places in the record book. They didn’t belong. If they did, after all, their names would be there. There is of course a circularity to this reasoning, one that I failed to evaluate critically at the time, along with various assumptions about inferiority. “Neither Oh nor Gibson played against the highest level of competition!” went the claim. True enough, but has anyone?

Then came Mark and Sammy.

Like many fans, I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to baseball for a stretch. My attachment to the game had wanted as the players I grew up with retired and my team embarked on a lengthy descent from relevance. There were a couple seasons where about the only baseball I watched was the World Series, and then of course, in 1994, there was no World Series to watch at all.

But what’s this? All of a sudden the Maris record was under assault, and not just by one but two players? This was some serious “must see” TV! I’ll be honest though. Even as I sat glued to every at bat ESPN would show, I rooted against these guys. For whatever reason, I wanted the record to stay with Maris. Why? I’m still not entirely sure. I think the number 61 was simply so ingrained in my DNA as a baseball fan that seeing it fall would feel like losing the ground under my feet, another sacred part of my childhood gone.

Despite my reluctance to see the Maris record fall, the question never crossed my mind, at least at the time, of whether McGwire’s 70 should count. Had the game changed since 1961? Absolutely! But so too had the game changed between 1927 and 1961. For that matter, think how different baseball was in 1927, the year of Ruth’s 60, from the decades of the “deadball” era that it followed.

Every record has its context, but since when is context disqualifying? Obviously for many fans, context is disqualifying if that context is cheating, and that brings us more or less to the present day where Aaron Judge is either on the verge of becoming the new (clean) home run king or will simply remain a distant (but still impressive) seventh to Barry Bonds if and when he hits home run number 62.

As warring camps duke it out over the question of Judge’s place on the home run list, officially or unofficially, I find myself in an unexpected spot. Where I was once ignorant of–and subsequently dismissive of–context, I am now granting it primacy. Rather than question whether Judge 62 is somehow worthier than Bonds 73 or vice versa, I’m sidestepping the question altogether…and not just for Judge and Bonds. I’ve come to view nearly all comparisons across eras as apples to oranges.

If Judge does hit 62, then what will I consider the record? 73 of course. But whose mark will I consider most legit? Really, I have no idea, though I do think Josh Gibson’s 1937 season merits a look along with Ruth, Maris, and Bonds.

Whatever happens this year, I do think the future will continue to add nuance and context to the home run record. Perhaps some year MLB will juice the baseballs so much that a dozen players top 60 home runs and someone launches 77! Maybe someday the mound will move back, the fences will come in, and someone will hit 100.

I don’t know how it will happen, but I’m certain 73 will fall one day. When it does, it may just bring in a whole new generation of baseball fans, just as it may lead another generation of baseball fans to cry foul and challenge its legitimacy: It doesn’t count! It totally counts! But it shouldn’t count! Get over it, loser! How about an asterisk?

We’ve heard it before, we’re hearing it now, and we’ll hear it again. A broken record has that effect.

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