In 1998, the U.S. was still recovering from MLB’s work stoppage four years earlier. The sport, though still popular amongst loyal fans, was failing at drawing new crowds and piquing the interest of the masses. Then, something magical happened that summer.
Right in the middle of what was yet to be known as the infamous P.E.D. era, two monstrous sluggers aimed to surpass a record that had yet to be broken: Roger Maris’ season home run record. Thus, the home run chase was born.
From April to September, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled each other. The first would homer on any given day, and the second would tie and pass him on the next. Back and forth they went without giving ground. In fact, this is what the race looked like:
Thus, the ‘98 season ended with McGwire anointing himself as the new HR season king, having mashed 70 dingers, while Sosa ended with 4 less. Their season lines ended:
McGwire and Sosa 1998 stats
19 years later, thanks to a rookie phenom and two of the best player of our generation, we may become spectators to the rebooted version of the iconic chase. As of this writing, we are past the quarter mark of the season and Mike Trout and Aaron Judge lead the league with 16 HRs, followed closely by Bryce Harper at 15. If we compare their bashing prowess to that of McGwire and Sosa, we get the following graph:
At this point in the season, Judge and Trout are almost at the same point that McGwire was during the ‘98 season. Harper’s performance is a little behind Mac’s. Nevertheless, the three of them are outperforming Sosa’s numbers and could may as well compete for the title of Home Run King.
So far, these are the numbers they are putting up:
Judge, Harper, Trout 2017 stats (5/28)
Despite being at a similar point as Mac was, neither of the three batters is up to par to Sosa or McGwire. Sure, Harper and Judge are superior sluggers to Sosa and Trout is slugging like McGwire - and almost like Barry Bonds - but on the PA/HR level, they’re lacking and in the end, that may be the stat that dooms their search for the crown.
Just in case, let’s take a look at ZiPs end of season projections for the three batters:
Judge, Harper, Trout 2017 projected stats
Unfortunately, ZiPS is not big on either of the three sluggers surpassing McGwire or Sosa. Only Judge and Trout are projected to hit 40 - and even that is in jeopardy now that Trout will miss two months with an UCL tear in his thumb - or over while Harper would be two shy. Then again, projections are not a crystal ball into the future and the final outcome may be way off the intended mark - Hello 2015 Kansas City Royals.
With Trout effectively out of the race, this now becomes a competition between Judge and Harper. Should they challenge McGwire’s crown or not, a season home run race between these two batters would definitely be exciting and something to remember. Their ability to hit for power is awe-inspiring and, for this generation of fans at least, it will generate comparisons between 2017 and 1998. For those of us who happened to miss McGwire and Sosa’s battle, the competition between Judge and Harper will provide a pretty good proxy.
Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and is contantly geeking out over Baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.