Monday, May 12, 2008

Dingers? I Don't See No Stinkin' Dingers!

"Hey, in 90 years, you think anyone is gonna' give a shit I called my shot? And what the hell are steroids? Damn, it's hot out here...ball boy, hand me my glass of gin!"
-Babe Ruth

Quick: Who are the last 2 players to hit 50 home runs in a season? Don't know? Can't remember? Why do you think that is? Too many players to choose from, you say? Is it because homers aren't as important as they once were? How can that be? It's the same game they played back in the days of the Bambino, isn't it?

Well, I'll tell you who they were. A-Rod and Prince Fielder each hit at least 50 last year, 54 and 50 respectively. Ohh yeah, and Ryan Howard and David Ortiz did it in 2006 with 58 and 54 respectively.

I don't blame you, loyal WHHG? reader, for not remembering this like you remember the last time you hit a whopper in your company softball game over the fat guy's head that rolled down the hill in left field allowing you to trip over your own feet all the way around the bases and slide head first into home thinking there'd be a play at the plate leaving that enormous cloud of dirt smoke you only get from a little league field (jeez, that was a mouth full).

It's not your fault you can't remember them. There was a time, however, when 50 home runs used to mean something. That was a fun 100 years. Too bad the '90s killed all that. 50 home runs doesn't matter anymore. Home runs in general, for that matter, just don't stop traffic like they used to. What transpired that made the home run so cheap you ask? Steroids, that's what.

Let's look at a sampling of players that have recently reached that 'historic' 50 HR plateau:

Mark McGwire (cheated with andro and God knows what else), Barry Bonds (please), Sammy Sosa (cheated with steroids), Albert Belle (had to be dirty), Brady Anderson (cheated with steroids), Greg Vaughn (must have cheated with steroids, he's Greg Vaughn)

Now, lets look at some of the old timers/guys that have never been linked* to steroids (*'never been linked' also includes being implicated solely by Jose Canseco):

Babe Ruth (cheated on wife), Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Mantle(was he married? if so, cheated on wife), Willie Mays, Ralph Kiner, Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez (cheated on wife), Jim Thome, Andruw Jones (stole money from Dodgers with recent contract), David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder

By the way, notice which great power hitter is conspicuisly missing from this group? Hammerin' Hank Aaron. That's right, the Hammer never hit 50 in a season. THAT'S BECAUSE IT'S REALLY REALLY HARD TO DO. The second that first guy stabbed that other guy in the ass with the clear in the locker room it ruined the all time records and the perspective people have on them forever. Talk about watering down the history books.

OK, now take a close look at those names listed above in that second group. Hmmm, this group includes some of the greatest sluggers of all time. Sure, they have some character flaws, but who among us doesn't? Ty Cobb was a racist murderer. Ron Darling got arrested outside a bar in Houston after fighting with some undercover cops the summer before the '86 World Series. Nobody's perfect. The point is, through all of their faults the integrity of the game was upheld. This is not case with the names in that first group. They lowered themselves to get an edge. For money or glory or to gain favor with 'El Presidente' or whatever, who knows, who cares. But when they lowered themselves, they also lowered the game.

What effect does this have on the great sluggers of today? No one cares about them. They get no credit or respect for their achievements. People are sick and tired of hearing about the steroid mess. The all-out media assault on Bonds/Clemens is making people do one thing: change the channel. Not only does the public not care about the new home run achievements no matter how great they are, these milestones aren't even considered achievements. But here's the problem, they really are great achievements. Anyone who is playing the game clean should be revered in the same way as the greats that hit that milestone before them.

To borrow a section from Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com (which is daily and fantastic, by the way) that will illustrate this point quite clearly:

"There were 15 homers on Friday (5/9), the fewest homers hit in any full slate of 14 or more games since 1994. "Everybody knows why the numbers are down," said one official this week. "It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room." He was referring to the fact that the scrutiny of performance-enhancing drugs has grown dramatically in recent years, and the size of bodies has gone down. "You can see it during batting practice," said one executive. "The ball just doesn't fly like it used to; you don't see a bunch of upper-deck shots." The same executive did a double-take recently when he saw one opposing player -- a slugger -- in particular. "It looks like he dropped 25 pounds," said the executive. "He looks like a completely different person."

This means that, according to people 'in the know' around baseball, home run hitting frequency is getting back to normal. This means that not every Johnny Needle-In-The-Ass can bulk up over the off season and become the mayor to Taterville, USA anymore.

Yet, there's been some pretty special seasons lately that are going relatively unnoticed. Prince Fielder? YOUNGEST PLAYER EVER TO HIT 50! EVER! Does anyone even know that?! Ryan Howard? He hit 58 en route to being the FASTEST PLAYER EVER TO THE 100 HOMER MARK! These are significant accomplishments in a game with a very long history that are forgotten almost as fast as they are achieved.

I remember every summer reading in the newspaper how some new player was chasing 61. Would he do it...would he do it...would he do it... It took 37 years and a lot of steroids for that one to fall. Those damn juicers took this joy away from us. That chase may never, ever happen again. Aww hell, it will NEVER happen again. No one could hit 62 clean, they're sure as shit not gonna hit 74. They not only took this away from us, they took it away from my unborn son that I'll brainwash into loving baseball. Me so sad, me want to cry.

2 comments:

Doc Holliday said...

I love how you equate Ty Cobb murdering someone with Ron Darling getting choked out by a Houston Police Officer - they're definitely similar crimes.

Dan said...

you should probably tie your unborn son's right hand behind his back and make him be a left-handed specialist so he can pitch 50 innings a year, make about $1.5 million and never worry about not having a job till he's about 42. also, then he can root for pitching records, a la Koufax's scoreless streak. at least that's my plan.