Wednesday, July 28, 2010

what's wrong with baseball?

Alex Rodriguez is one home run away from one of the most exclusive clubs: In Major League Baseball history, only six players have hit more than 600 home runs. Once Rodriguez hits number 600, he's going to bound past Sammy Sosa, number six on that list, who stands at 609. Ken Griffey, Jr. presents a bit more of a challenge, as he stands at 630, but if Rodriguez doesn't pass that mark this year (it seems very unlikely that he will) his averages dictate that he will next year. After Rodriguez surpasses Griffey, it's a virtual Holy Grail until the top. The list from fourth to second goes from Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron. Then, on top, we have Barry Bonds. We're going to sidestep the Bonds moral dilemma for now and focus on the man who's still playing, who's going to make history, any day now: Rodriguez.

A-Rod began his career in Seattle, playing for the Mariners and moved to the Texas Rangers before settling (where he'll probably retire) with the New York Yankees. Always considered one of the finest to play the game, he broke a sixty-eight year record by becoming the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, in 2007. A mere three years later, he is in line to make history with 600. Rodriguez's accomplishment, however, seems to be drawing (relatively) little media attention. Some of it has to be Bonds-related. The lingering effects of the Steroid Era still taint MLB, in the minds of fans and sportswriters alike. Rodriguez is not Bonds, but he's not without sin: Just over a year ago, he admitted to using steroids, claiming that he only did so during his time with the Rangers, due to the tremendous pressure to perform. Baseball purists and armchair pundits can argue all day long whether the state of the game merits an asterisk or whether this entire generation does, but numbers speak: Barry Bonds is the all-time home runs leader, and Alex Rodriguez will probably surpass him, if he continues on pace and plays for long enough.

So what's the deal with Rodriguez? What's the deal with the media? What's the deal with MLB? Why isn't this a bigger deal? It'll be celebrated in baseball circles, sure, but it won't be the all-out fete we had when Sosa, or Griffey, or even Bonds passed the mark. Maybe it's the afore-mentioned taint of the admissions we've seen in the papers, but maybe it's just a product of the slowing-down era. Twelve years ago, in 1998, we had Mark McGuire and Sosa (and Griffey) battling it out in the newspapers for the single-season home run crown. This year alone, we've had five no-hitters pitched. The game has changed dramatically from a (probably-) steroid enhanced hitter's game to a pitcher's game. It's been coming for a long while and some purists will try to convince you that it was never anything but. The records say otherwise.

Rodriguez will hit 600 any day now. He should have already done so, to be honest. When he does, it should be a celebration. But it's probably a good sign for the emotional and mental health of baseball that active player closest to him in the chase is Jim Thorne of the Chicago White Sox, a pretty non-controversial ball player. After that, well, we have Manny Ramirez, who comes replete with his own issues.

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