Chasing 73: Chris Davis and the MLB single season home run record

Slugger Chris Davis caused quite a stir when he said that “61 is the record…and I think most fans agree with me on that.” In the midst of an incredible season where his 37 home runs tied an American league record at the All-Star break, he dove head-first into the steroid debate.

Very early on in my writing for Bases and Baskets, I discussed how the steroid era affects the legacy of its players (and future ones)—specifically with regards to the era's biggest name and home run king*, Barry Bonds. In my discussion of why Bonds should not be in the Hall of Fame, one of the very first points that I brought up was the fact that his name is strongly associated with two numbers: 73 and 762, the single-season and career home run records of which he holds.

But can we ignore his record?

I have to agree with Jose Bautista and the majority of All-Stars surveyed by Yahoo! Sports who said that 73 is the record. The truth of the matter is that you cannot simply overlook a number that has not been invalidated. As Bautista said in the Yahoo! article: “I see that 73 is in the record book, so that’s the record.”

In order to reclaim the fact that Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 is the record, MLB commissioner Bud Selig needs to ax a good portion of baseball's statistical records—or at least put the infamous asterisk next to them. Players like Mark McGwire (who cranked out 70 home runs in 1998) have publicly admitted their guilt in using performance-enhancing drugs; if we are going to leave those records as is because “it was part of the game,” then the roided-up records still hold. Whether Chris Davis likes it or not, the record books have the No.1 slot filled by Bonds and 73.

Other games have taken honors away from disgraced players, so it's not an impossible task. Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis lost Tour de France titles, and Marion Jones lost Olympic medals in track for their involvement with PEDs. Surely baseball has the ability to do the same.

The home run ball is a thing of beauty...and also baseball's primary source of controversy.
The thing that makes this more complicated than just revoking records is to decide where the steroid era starts and where it ends. And do you take away all players records during that time period including the sober records like Jeter’s 3000 hits and Griffey’s 600 home runs (an incredible feat muffled by Bonds' ascent through all home run records)? It’s a matter that is much more complicated than just taking one record off the books.

As an avid American sports fan, baseball has translated my suspicion to other leagues when players like Ray Lewis, Metta World Peace, & Co. return from debilitating injuries in record time. Are the NBA and the NFL completely clean? Who knows, and their day may come where something surfaces but baseball needs to put the lingering steroid questions to bay. The culture that Bud Selig let Major League Baseball establish for itself in the late 90s and early 00s will always come back to haunt him and the game until it is officially settled and acknowledged. It's no small feat—that would take a truly thorough investigation of its former players unless the league decides to blanket all players in the era with asterisks. Truth is, we need someone with a comprehensive knowledge regarding the facts about drug abuse problems to investigate and assimilate the facts. Even more than the Mitchell Report.

In a game where numbers are sacred, an official decision is a pivotal mark. Even if MLB decides that the records should remain, there needs to be a formal something that clears up the question of whether 61 or 73 is the record.

Until then, Chris Davis is chasing 73…and the whispers of “is he taking steroids?” will follow him all the way there.

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