Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Steriods have devalued the home run

More than any other sport, baseball has worshiped numbers. Even casual fans knew what 755, 61 and 56 meant.

And more than anything other play in any sport, nothing is sexier than a home run.

There is anticipation, the roar of the crowd as the ball takes flight, the ecstasy of the crowd when the ball clears the fence and the slow trot around the bases before the player is greeted by his teammates at the plate.

The bigger the moment, the bigger the roar and the bigger the reward. Walk-offs and playoff home runs are talked about forever. But even if the home team is down nine runs, the crowd celebrates the solo shot of journeyman like it is a holiday.

The home run is as American as it gets. Someone challenges and you deliver. You swing as hard as you can you can and try to hit it as far as possible.

In all other sports, the game is confined to the field, with the possible exceptions of field goals, but the NFL puts up a net to keep those in play. In baseball, the point is to explode past the boundaries. As a fan what could be sweeter than catching your team’s home run? We love it so much that if we catch a visitor’s homer, we extort the fan that captured it to, “Throw it back.” Home runs are for the home team.

For this week’s series against the Yankees, the focus is on Alex Rodriguez. The Yankee third baseman is on the verge of that was once sacred ground — 600 home runs.

When I was a kid in the late 80s, people thought the home run was starting to become diluted. Smaller parks, lighter bats — some even suggest Major League baseball was messing with the baseballs winding them tighter so they would fly farther,

That was just an appetizer for what would happen after the Players strike of 1994. Players started taking steroids in earnest and everyone from the commissioner, to the press to us as fans looked away.

For the longest time, there were only three men who hit 600 home runs. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

When Roger Maris hit 61 homers in 1961, only three men hit 50 in a single season again before Albert Belle reached 50 in 1995 and after that 50 became so common that now it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

From the late 90s on, it was an arms race. In our thirst for bigger and longer home runs, their integrity went away. It is almost as if these sluggers are Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. We wanted them to hit home runs and now we question how they did it.

Sometime soon A-Rod will join the 600 club. Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa have already doubled the club. Bonds and Sosa have disgraced the number so much that even if Griffey is as clean as we pray he is, his accomplishment seems shallow.

There is talk that one day A-Rod will surpass Bonds and what a joyless march that will be. Two gifted men who in their quest for home run prowess who went too far. They gave us what we asked for and now we condemn them for doing it.

Don’t misread that as condoning steroid use, it’s just an admission of my own guilt in the matter.

So on a daily basis we stood and screamed our approval for what we lusted for — a smash over the fence. Our appetites were never whet. But now we are so fat on the long ball, the history of our national pasttime has been made irrelevant. Numbers don’t mean what they used to.

Up until Dave Kingman retired in 1986, every player who hit 400 home runs had made the Hall of Fame. He was the first to not. At the time, there were only 21 men who had done it. A century of baseball produced 21 men. There are now 49 and many of the new ones won’t make the Hall of Fame.

There is talk that A-Rod’s 600 home run ball will be fetch over $100,000 which is the price his 500th sold for. Collectors say the ball hasn’t been devalued.

So, Cleveland fan, if you catch number 600, find a Yankee fan and sell it on the open market for all you can get. The ball may be valuable on E-Bay, but it is worthless everywhere else.

We got what we asked for — more — and it made every that went before it and after it worthless.