As Orioles slugger Chris Davis sits here in early July with 33 homers and 85 runs batted in, precisely as many as he had in each of those categories in all of last season, it seems like a foregone conclusion that if he stays healthy he will break Brady Anderson’s franchise record of 50 home runs in a single season, set back in 1996.
But will Davis be able to set the “legitimate” all-time major league record for home runs in a single season?
Davis is on the record as saying that he still views Roger Maris as the single-season home run king because "he was the last guy to do it clean." Ahead of Maris on the home run list are Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire (twice) and Sammy Sosa (thrice), who have all been linked to performance-enhancing drugs in one way or another.
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Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961. McGwire and Sosa both famously broke his record in 1998, and that trio put up more larger-than-life numbers over the next three summers, with Bonds establishing the current record of 73 in 2001.
But Davis is definitely not alone in questioning the legitimacy of those “juiced” home run totals. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports wrote in a column on Sunday that Davis has a real shot at baseball’s “legit” single-season home run mark.
If you look at it that way, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for it even though there is no debating whether Bonds and company cranked all those home runs in legitimate games, Davis is on pace to hit to hit 60 this season, one shy of Maris’ mark.
“[Davis] has a legit shot to get the legit record,” Heyman wrote. “And yes, despite all the Internet yahoos, it must be considered legit. There are some very good reasons why he's breaking out yet again, and they have nothing to do with steroids.”
Of course, if you look at it that way, you are also following the premise that Davis himself is clean, something not all fans are buying into today, where burly sluggers such as Jose Bautista and Davis are considered guilty by some until proven innocent.
Davis said on Twitter last week that he isn’t on steroids. I guess you never really know, but I tend to believe the narrative about how Davis has had prodigious power for years and has finally figured out how to consistently tap into it in his age-27 season.
If that’s the real story, Davis might just overtake Maris and set the new asterisk-free MLB record for home runs in a single season. That might not mean something to all baseball fans, but it certainly would mean something to purists like Heyman and one slugger nicknamed “Crush.”