September is here, and already the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton feels as if he’s been asked a “zillion’’ times about his surge in home runs.
So if Stanton winds up with more than Roger Maris’ 61 home runs and fewer than Barry Bonds’ 73, does he own baseball’s single-season home run record?
Stanton paused and stared into his locker before answering the question at Nationals Park on Wednesday.
He said earlier this month that he thinks Maris’ 61 is the legitimate record, but he backtracked on that, also saying that he’s at a crossroads about what the record means.
He’s said that if Bonds - and Mark McGwire, who hit 70, and Sammy Sosa, who hit 66 in 1998 - deserve asterisks for their home run totals during the Steroids Era, then Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs deserves the same treatment because he played before the sport was integrated.
So what did he say Wednesday?
“I can see where it is a fun topic for baseball fans,’’ Stanton said. “It’s a topic with a lot of different answers. But it’s definitely going to be part of the discussion for a long time.’‘
Stanton hit his 51st home run Tuesday night in Washington and has 32 games left to hit 11 home runs.
In 49 games since July 5, Stanton has hit 30 home runs.
Stanton has a 14-home run edge for the major league lead over Yankees rookie Aaron Judge. Only two other players - Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx - have held leads that wide.
Ruth did it seven times and Foxx twice, according to the Marlins.
In September, Stanton has a chance to be the fourth player in history to have three consecutive months of at least 12 home runs. The others are Ruth, McGwire and Foxx.
Ruth was the first to hit 60 home runs in 1927 in 154-game season, finishing with 17 during September.
In 1961, Maris hit 61 for the Yankees after the schedule expanded from 154 to 162 games.
In 1998, St. Louis’ McGwire hit 70 home runs. Three years later, Bonds hit 73 for San Francisco.
For decades, baseball’s single-season home run record has been up for debate, and this season, Stanton, the game’s best power source, might add a fresh wrinkle to the debate.
This is a similar situation to the Phillies’ Ryan Howard in 2006. He entered September with 49 home runs. He hit nine in the final month.
Bonds was the Marlins batting coach in 2016, but was let go because of tensions with Miami manager Don Mattingly, who thought Bonds wasn’t dedicated enough to the job.
Still, Stanton, 27, with a $325 million contract and trade rumors circulating his name, said that Bonds helped him last season and that he’s been talking to Bonds this season.
Bonds is reminding him to be prepared because he’s likely to get fewer pitches to hit. Bonds is also talking to Stanton about focus, not to get wrapped up in the attention.
“Barry Bonds is like a mad scientist when it comes to hitting,’’ Stanton says. “At first, it was hard to understand his mindset. But slowly, you start to understand what he’s trying to say and it is meaningful.
“No, because if you don’t play baseball, you won’t understand,’’ Stanton says. “It would be like trying to teach algebra to someone who doesn’t understand math.’‘
Nationals manager Dusty Baker was the Giants manager the year Bonds hit 73, so, “To me, 73 is the record,’’ Baker said.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly says the record has to be 73, “no matter what we think.’‘
The Marlins have a long shot chance to make the postseason as a wild card team, a refreshing turn of events for September, given that a year ago they were dealing with the death of their best pitcher, Jose Fernandez, in a boating accident.
This season, they were 10-18 in May and have had a winning record every month since.
The Marlins have five series left against the Phillies, Mets and Braves in the season’s final month, so they hope to gain enough ground to make a meaningful trip starting Sept. 22 to Colorado and Arizona, the National League wild card leaders.
The race, and not home runs, is what Stanton thinks about.
“No matter what the team is doing, I wouldn’t be thinking about the home runs,’’ Stanton said.