New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge became just the sixth player in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in a season. It’s the ninth time and sixth season in history a player has done that. The mark could also mean great things for Tennessee football in 2022.
It’s hard to believe, but Rocky Top’s last top 10 finish was 2001, which also happens to be the last time a player crossed that mark. Barry Bonds obviously set the single-season home run record that year with 73. UT finished in the top five and went 11-2.
That year, Sammy Sosa also crossed the threshold, hitting 64 home runs. Before 2001, Tennessee football’s last top 10 finish was 1999, when they went 9-3. Sosa hit 63 home runs that year, and Mark McGwire hit 65.
One year before that, McGwire and Sosa hit 70 and 66 home runs respectively, becoming the first two players in 37 years at the time to cross the 60-home run threshold and breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1961. The Vols just happened to win the national championship that year.
Want more proof that 60 home runs is a good omen for UT? How about the first time a player ever reached that mark? Babe Ruth did it in 1927, hitting right at 60. The Vols went 8-0-1 that year, which was Gen. Robert Neyland’s second on the job, and they won the Southern Conference.
The only non-top 10 year for Tennessee football in which a player crossed the 60-home run mark was 1961, when Maris broke the record. His stood for longer than anybody else’s, but the Vols were falling apart as a program during that time and went just 6-4 under Bowden Wyatt.
However, that can be explained if you look at the superstition. Maris didn’t hit the 60-home run mark in 154 games, which was all they played when Ruth was playing. He hit No. 60 in the Yankees’ 158th game and No. 61 in the final game of the year, their 162nd game.
As a result, for UT to have a top 10 or championship season, a player has to cross the 60-home run threshold within 154 games, as Ruth did in 1927. Judge hit that mark in the 147th game, which should serve the Vols well.
There’s a deeper history too. You may wonder why 1999 was significantly worse than 1998, 2001 or 1927. Well, only Sosa crossed the 60-home run threshold within 154 games that year, and he didn’t do it as quickly as he or McGwire did in 1998.
Bonds did it more quickly in 2001, but Sosa didn’t hit that mark until the 157th game. There’s a reason the year two players did it is the greatest season in Tennessee football history. It’s pretty clear that 60 home runs within 154 games is the standard.
Also, if the home run record is broken overall while the 60-home run threshold is reached in time, that’s when a top five finish or championship comes into play. Of course, that still means the Vols may be looking more at a 1999-caliber season this year.
That’s because Judge is the only player who hit the mark, and he’s not going to break Bonds’ record. However, there’s another factor in play here that requires addressing the elephant in the room: steroids. As far as we know, Judge isn’t on them.
McGwire admitted to using them when he crossed the threshold. Records show Bonds used them from 2001 to 2006, and the Mitchell report shows Sosa used them too. Assuming he’s clean, that makes Judge the first player since Maris in 1961 to hit 60 home runs without juicing and the first since Ruth in 1927 to hit them within 154 games.
Perhaps that’s another break for Tennessee football. Does that mean a national title is on the horizon once again? If you follow the morale of the program in Josh Heupel’s second year, fans everywhere on Rocky Top would love to believe that.