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Aaron Judge has a tendency to interrupt Benjamin Hoffman’s life at home.
At any moment — watching TV with his wife, walking his children home from summer camp — Hoffman’s smart watch may buzz, alerting him that the Yankees have scored. And if Judge, the team’s star outfielder, has hit a home run, Hoffman has to get up, grab his computer and get to work.
For more than a month, Hoffman, the baseball editor at The Times, has recorded every home run hit by Judge in an article that keeps growing.
With 52 home runs through Saturday and 29 games remaining, Judge is approaching baseball history and lore. In a sport that consecrates statistical achievements, only two players have hit 60 home runs in a season without suspicion of drug use: Babe Ruth, who hit 60 in 1927, and Roger Maris, whose 61 in ’61 is still a Yankees and American League record.
This year, as spring turned to summer and Judge kept pace with Ruth and Maris, Hoffman began to consider how the Sports desk should cover a story that was building game by game.
“Were we going to write a story every couple of weeks, updating where he is and how he’s doing? Or write one story and then go a really long time without acknowledging it?” he said of the desk’s deliberation. “You get into this question of what’s the right level of incremental coverage.”
He decided that one article that cataloged all of Judge’s homers would help readers follow the chase or catch up with a feat in progress. So on July 29, Hoffman spent a day building a list of the 39 home runs Judge had hit up to that point. He wrote descriptions of each home run, including who pitched the ball and the distance it traveled, and embedded videos that the Yankees posted on Twitter. Evan Easterling, a colleague on the Sports desk, edited Hoffman’s work.
That night, Kansas City Royals pitchers served Nos. 40 and 41 to Judge. Hoffman and Easterling made two more entries and published the article.
Since then, the task has been keeping up. Hoffman uses ESPN alerts during Yankees games. If Judge hits one out, he updates the list. If Hoffman is not around, someone, often Easterling, will add the new entry. The article has been updated 10 times.
What is it about baseball and its holy numbers? Hoffman noted that the game has looked about the same since the 1890s, and reliable record-keeping began soon after. More than a century of comparable statistics is raw material for good conversation.
Reading habits have evolved faster than baseball has. Beyond delivering news to subscribers, outlets are meeting readers where they are or where they may go. As Judge’s home run count climbs and baseball fans search for details, the tracker is there for them.
“It’s been an evolving process for years of trying to treat articles not as static objects that go up once and they’re done,” said Hoffman, who started with the Sports desk in 2004 and became the baseball editor in 2020.
This type of article, which includes updates for returning readers and context for those catching up, is an important tool for digital strategy, said Victoria Niemeyer, who has worked with the Sports desk as an associate director in The Times’s Audience department.
“If a story is something our audience will come back to, this is something we’ll often suggest that we do,” Niemeyer said. “With sports especially, this is becoming such a big part of our playbook,” she added.
Experiments with form aren’t named successes or failures by the number of readers they draw, and the Judge home run list is just one part of The Times’s coverage of a great performance — a whole that will include more traditional articles on the Yankees, Judge and his impending free agency. If the Sports desk finds that readers respond to the compilation, it could inform future projects.
“If this becomes a template for covering a long-range story, then it will be super valuable. If it doesn’t, then it was worth a shot,” Hoffman said.