aaron judge yankees
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Aaron Judge hit his 29th home run in Wednesday’s Yankees win over the Athletics. It was the 75th game (out of 77) he has played this year. And the Yankees now have 85 left in the regular season.

If you crunch the numbers, Judge is currently on pace to hit 62 homers. Which would be one better than Roger Maris’ team record of 61 and, in the eyes of many, make Judge the sport’s true home run king.

That said, Judge isn’t even halfway there yet. And there are many other factors in play. He needs to keep producing at his current pace. He needs to stay healthy (no sure thing given his history). And, as Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo astutely pointed out on ESPN First Take, the Yankees have to actually let him do it.

“There is no chance. The Yankees aren’t going to let him get near it,” Russo said on Wednesday. “No chance he’s getting to 61 home runs. I think they’re worried, because they’re paying him so much money, they’re worried about wearing the player out. They’re worried about somebody getting hurt. … And overload, as far as 162 games.”

Russo is on to something here. Not another professional athlete load management debate, but a much bigger point: Judge and the Yankees are quickly moving toward a situation that is more or less unprecedented in baseball history. He could be the first slugger in history to chase a historic home run number while on a team incentivized to limit his workload. Not to mention his own injury history, or the specter of his pending free agency.

There have been 16 seasons of 57-plus home runs in history (among 11 players). Five came between 1921 and 1961, long before load management was a thing. The other 11 have occurred in the last 25 years (dating back to 1997). And of those 11, only three players have hit that many home runs while playing for a legitimate contender.

  • Barry Bonds, 2001: 73 home runs in 153 games.
  • Mark McGwire, 1998: 70/155.
  • Sammy Sosa, 1998: 66/159.
  • Mark McGwire, 1999: 65/133.
  • Sammy Sosa, 2001: 64/160.
  • Sammy Sosa, 1999: 63/162.
  • Giancarlo Stanton, 2017: 59/159.
  • Ryan Howard, 2006: 58/159.
  • Mark McGwire, 1997: 58/156.
  • Luis Gonzalez, 2001: 57/162.
  • Alex Rodriguez, 2002: 57/162.

Sosa’s Cubs won the National League wild card in a one-game playoff in 1998. Gonzalez’s Diamondbacks won the NL West in 2001 by two games over Bonds’ Giants (who finished three back of the NL wild card). And that’s it. Every other player played for a team out of the race. The total workloads for Bonds and Gonzalez may have been assisted by baseball’s post-Sept. 11 layoff.

Barring a complete collapse by the Yankees — an event that seems wildly unlikely — they will have very little at stake in September and early October. The AL East will be long decided. Home field in the AL should also be handled. That means they will focus on postseason preparation. And that means player rest. Which is the challenge. It’s going to be fascinating to watch unfold.

“You would think the Yankees would love the idea, that they could make the single-season home run mark, get it away from the steroid guy Bonds and put it back in the Bronx,” Russo said. “Yet you know and I know there is no way. Middle of September, they’re going to rest him. Because in their eyes, the bigger picture is the postseason.”

James Kratch can be reached at james.kratch@xlmedia.com

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.