All Players Who Came Close To Beating Roger Maris' Home Run Record Before Aaron Judge

One of the biggest stories in baseball this year has been Aaron Judge's pursuit of the American League (AL) single-season home run record, originally set by Roger Maris with 61 in 1961. Judge, a right fielder for the New York Yankees, broke the record on October 4 with his 62nd home run of the year (via The New York Times). He has since hit two more home runs in the postseason, per Sports Illustrated.

Although Maris's record stood for 61 years, Judge certainly hasn't been the only one to get close to it. In fact, the Yankees have dominated the race for the AL record, with Babe Ruth now in third place. In seventh place — and second since Maris — is former Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez hit 57 homers in one season with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 54 with the Yankees in 2007, according to Baseball Almanac.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez's achievements have been tainted by his admission, in 2009, to having taken performance-enhancing drugs earlier in his career (via Biography). He's in good company: the top three National League single-season home run hitters, who also hold the top records in major league history, were also caught using steroids. This includes Barry Bonds (73 home runs in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 home runs in 1998), and Sammy Sosa (66 home runs in 1998) (via Baseball Almanac).

Ken Griffey, Jr.: 56 home runs in 1997 and 1998

In the mid-1990s, the AL's hottest hitter was Seattle Mariners' center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. His father had been a star for Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" teams in the 1970s. When the two played on the same team in 1990, they were the first father-son pair to do so. They had previously been the first father-son pair to play in Major League Baseball at the same time, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Griffey, Jr. hit 56 home runs in each of two consecutive seasons, 1997 and 1998. His statistics in those two years were nearly parallel, and he hit his 50th home run on the same day each season, September 7. In 1997, he was the AL MVP, and in 1998, he won the Home Run Derby (via MLB Daily Dingers).

While Griffey, Jr. didn't break Maris's record, he broke others. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with an all-time high of 99.32% votes in his favor. He tied Dale Long's and Don Mattingly's records for most consecutive games with home runs (eight), according to Baseball Almanac. Ironically, despite his hitting prowess, Griffey, Jr. commented in a 2008 interview that defense is the most important aspect of playing (via Baseball Almanac).

Jose Bautista: 54 home runs in 2010

Jose Bautista is now a six-time All-Star baseball player, but in 2010, he was an unlikely candidate to be a star for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had been a replacement player up until that year but finished the 2010 season as a contender for the AL MVP. Finishing with 54 total home runs, he broke the Blue Jays' single-season home record with his 48th of the year. He hit his 50th home run of the year off pitcher Felix Hernandez, who would go on to win the AL's Cy Young Award that year, the top pitching award.

The following year, though he didn't hit as many, he still led the major leagues in home runs for the second season in a row, the first player to do so since Mark McGwire in 1998 and 1999. Though sometimes a controversial player, with his bat-flipping and his feuds with a Baltimore Orioles pitcher, he became "the undisputed face of the Toronto Blue Jays" for years, according to Jays Journal.

David Ortiz: 54 home runs in 2006

David Ortiz, better known as "Big Papi," was one of the stars of the Boston Red Sox's 2004 and 2007 World Series runs. In between, on Sept. 21, 2006, he broke the team's single-season home run with his 51st of the year. The old record lasted 68 years. The new one lasted six innings, until Ortiz's 52nd homer of the year. He ended the season with 54. The same year, he beat the team's record for most home runs hit in away games in a single season. The previous record was 31, set by Babe Ruth in 1927. He led the league in homers, RBIs, and walks that year (via Society for American Baseball Research).

Ortiz stayed with the Red Sox for 14 years. He finished his career with 541 home runs, 632 doubles, and 1,786 RBIs. This year, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, according to the organization's website.

Mickey Mantle, 54 home runs in 1961

In 1961, as Maris pursued Ruth's record, he had competition from his own teammate, Mickey Mantle. Although the media portrayed them as bitter rivals, they were actually friends and roommates, according to History. Mantle was the more popular player, however. The media attention caused Maris a lot of stress, and when he publicly criticized Yankees fans, they began to like him even less. They wanted Mantle to win. 

He ended the year with 54 home runs but failed to catch up with Maris because of a late-season hip infection. That may have saved him from some of the pressure Maris faced, which was so bad his hair began to fall out. Maris later said, "As a ballplayer, I would be delighted to do it again. As an individual, I doubt if I could possibly go through it again" (via History).

Together, the two broke the record for most single-season home runs by a pair of teammates. The previous record holders? Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1927 (via Baseball Hall of Fame).

Aaron Judge: 52 home runs in 2017

Earlier this season, Aaron Judge was working to beat his own 2017 home run record, which is currently 17th overall in AL history (via Baseball Almanac). He'd gotten off to a rocky start with the Yankees in 2016, but proved himself worthy of a spot on the roster based on his spring training work the next year. 

Despite playing a bit the year before, he was considered a rookie in 2017 and ended up winning AL Rookie of the Year. His achievements that year included beating Mark McGwire's record for most home runs by a rookie, according to Pinstripe Alley. McGwire had hit 49 in 1987; Judge hit 52. 

Judge set the record for most walks by a rookie, too, with 127. His stats were, for a rookie, pretty high overall, including his .422 on-base percentage. He ended up on lists of most RBIs, extra-base hits, and runs scored in a single season (via How They Play).

His 52 home runs were also unusually long. According to Pinstripe Alley, he hit the roof of the Miami Marlins' stadium multiple times during the Home Run Derby that year. He hit such a long homer in Seattle that the Statcast couldn't measure it. Despite Judge's incredible 2017 achievements, he's outdone himself this year and hasn't finished yet.