Home run hitters with Palmetto State connections play major roles in breaking MLB record

September 21, 2017 GMT

When Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon smacked a changeup over the right-center field wall in Toronto on Tuesday night, he made history.

That homer was the 5,694th of the season, breaking the Major League Baseball record for home runs in a season set in 2000.

Since Gordon delivered the historic blast, he may wind up as the answer to a Jeopardy question one day. But setting the record was a league-wide effort that includes a handful of players with South Carolina connections.

Let’s start with Aaron Judge, the New York Yankee outfielder who’s currently second in the league with 45 home runs this season.

Judge got his start in 2014 playing ball for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ Class A affiliate. He played 65 games for Charleston that year, and batted .333 with nine home runs and 45 RBI.

Just three spots down on the list sits Justin Smoak, a Goose Creek native who plays first base for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Before accumulating a career-high 38 home runs and netting his first-ever All-Star Game appearance, Smoak was a standout at Stratford High School.

In three years at South Carolina (2006-08), Smoak averaged 20 homers and 69 RBI while batting .333.

Before the All-Star teams were announced, Smoak told The Post and Courier in June that he doesn’t worry about homers when he steps to the plate.

“When I try to hit homers, I can’t. And when I don’t try, I do. So I try not to think about it too much and just try to play my game,” he said.

A few other names also stand out on the list of MLB home run leaders:

• Joey Gatto, a third baseman for the Texas Rangers, spent some time in the Palmetto State in 2014 as a member of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Gatto batted .323 and hit 21 homers and 50 RBI in just 58 games that year. Right now, he and Smoak are tied for fifth with their 38 home runs apiece.

• Though he plays with the Cubs now, Anthony Rizzo’s connection with South Carolina does not come by way of Myrtle Beach. The first baseman, who has hit 32 home runs this season, started his career with the Boston Red Sox. He spent two seasons with the Greenville Drive, Boston’s Class A affiliate. In 2008, Rizzo hit .373 through 21 games with the Drive, with no homers and 11 RBI. A year later, he played 40 games before getting a promotion. In those games, he hit .298 with nine home runs and 42 RBI.

• Circling back to Charleston, outfielder Gary Sanchez is also having a productive year for the Yankees. He’s second behind Judge on the team with 32 home runs. Sanchez spent two seasons with the RiverDogs. In 2011, he played 82 games and batted .256 with 17 home runs and 52 RBI. The next season, he hit .297 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI.