What Giancarlo Stanton is doing in these last days of the Miami Marlins season — chasing baseball history — demands a framework of context to have the full weight of appreciation, because this is the one sport whose very oxygen is its heritage.
Major League Baseball dates its traceable beginning to 1871. We were only six years removed from the American Civil War. People still traversed the plains in stagecoaches. Ulysses S. Grant was president, and our flag had 37 stars.
A person named Ezra Sutton playing for a team called the Cleveland Forest Citys hit the first home run recorded.
Now, almost a century and a half later, Stanton has a chance to become only the sixth man ever — ever — to reach 60 home runs in a season, and only the third to do so unaided by steroids or performance-enhancing drugs.
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds combined for six 60-plus seasons in a binge between 1998 and 2001, and MLB counts those accomplishments without asterisks, but all three men were found to have pharmaceutically cheated.
The only men to have ever reached the plateau taint-free were Babe Ruth with 60 in 1927 and then Roger Maris with 61 in 1961.
Stanton, after a pair of homers Thursday, is at 59 with two games left after Friday night.
“It’s crazy to be in that company,” Stanton said Thursday night. “It doesn’t sink in yet. It doesn’t make sense yet, really. But it’s really cool. It’s everything I’ve worked for, and it’s something really cool.”
Stanton is one more homer from reaching maybe the rarest and most hallowed number in all of sports, two from tying the unblemished record, and three from standing alone as baseball’s all-time “King Clean.”
“It’s impossible not to think about,” he said.
“It’s been something special here,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “It’s been fun to watch.”
Stanton has a real chance to reach the historically significant 62 because:
A) He’s Giancarlo Stanton.
B) Twelve of his 59 homers, or 20.3 percent, have come off rookie pitchers, and three Atlanta Braves rookies (Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims, Max Fried) are scheduled starters against the Marlins on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
If the Braves don’t mess with history with cowardly intentional walks, this could be a scintillating weekend at Marlins Park, even for a team with a losing record and long out of playoff contention.
Even opposing managers have gotten caught up in what Stanton is doing. Said Braves manager Brian Snitker on Thursday: “It’s incredible to watch him hit.”
Marlins fans always have imagined what this man might be capable of if, in a career interrupted most years by various injuries, Stanton could finally stay healthy.
The answer is that his 2017 season, no matter how it ends, should earn Stanton the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. Since 2000, only Alex Rodriguez has won a league MVP award playing for a losing team, but the exception should be made again with Stanton.
Stanton’s season stands alongside Dan Marino’s record-setting 1984 as the single greatest individual year we have experienced in South Florida team sports.
His 59 home runs have averaged 418 feet and totaled 24,675 — or 4.67 miles. The longest, a 477-foot moonshot, came Aug. 4, the month his pursuit of history went into hyper-drive when he hit 18 out.
This has been the Year of the Homer, with a record number hit across MLB, but even so, Stanton stands apart. His 59 are eight more than second-place Aaron Judge, the Yankees phenom, and 17 more than third place.
This, too: Stanton has hit more home runs at home than on the road, 31-28, even though Marlins Park is, statistically, the sixth-hardest of 30 ballparks to hit a home run.
Now he enters the weekend chasing 60 home runs, or 61, or 62…
He enters the weekend chasing history.