The Mitchell Report has brought the controversy over steroids in baseball to living rooms and water coolers across the country. But what was lost among words like androstenedione and Human Growth Hormone was the long term effects that a generation of cheaters have had on the baseball fan's ability to appreciate formerly rare individual accomplishments.
Baseball, more than any other sport, reveres personal achievement and historic events. Being part of an exclusive club of players who've accomplished something special is, well, special. But the questionable ethics of baseball's past two decades has produced more memorable moments than ever before - probably too many. And nowhere is this more egregious than in the home run column.
The home run has a certain intrigue. After all, Babe Ruth's bat was one of the things that got the Roaring Twenties roaring. And America has always loved the image of "Casey at the Bat". Unfortunately, the performance enhanced hulks of the modern era of baseball have jaded baseball fans to once unusual - and crowd pleasing - accomplishments.
When Cecil Fielder hit 51 in 1990 it was just the 17th time in baseball's hundred year history that 50 home runs were eclipsed in a single season. What excitement!
The buzz came from the fact that the 50 home run club was exclusive. Nobody had accomplished the feat since George Foster in 1977 - 13 years. An event that in times of unenhanced human physiology is rare enough to attract national attention, barbershop talk and a lot of good clean fun to a Detroit Tigers team with a losing record. If you havenâ€™t felt that buzz in a while it's because the biologically enhanced cheaters in the game have stolen it from every baseball fan.
Babe Ruth became the first to hit more than 50 home runs when he had 54 round-trippers in 1920. Only 9 players have hit more than 50 home runs more than once â€“ among them Ruth (4), Mickey Mantle (2) and Willie Mays (2). For most of baseballâ€™s history these were the things that made legends. The 50 home run milestone was so extraordinary that only one player â€“ Foster â€“ reached it between 1965 and 1990.
That all changed in the 1990â€™s. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both accomplished the feat 4 times and led the barrage of 24 such seasons featured in the 1990â€™s and early millennia. In 2007 Prince Fielder joined his father in the now overcrowded 50 home run club. There are now 41 of these seasons in the record books. And while itâ€™s impossible to say who exactly used performance enhancers and at what point, the Mitchell Report intimates a correlation. The average fan might intimate the same.
Just compare the thrill surrounding Fielders 50 in 1990 with Brady Andersonâ€™s unceremonious 50 in 1996 â€“ one of 12 such seasons in the 1990â€™s. The casual fan might not even know that Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Andruw Jones are part of this formerly exclusive club as well. Greg Vaughnâ€™s 50 in 1998 are practically trivia. These milestones were once the fabric of the game and something to delve into besides the team standings.
While the steroid epidemic might have forever tainted the baseball record books the biggest victims aren't in Cooperstown, they're in every town. No amount of asterisks can bring back the novelty of seeing something rare â€“ accomplished naturally. The cheaters have robbed us of the uniquely American experience of being part of one playerâ€™s incredible season at bat or on the mound. That's what makes it all such a shame.
Copyright © 2010 B. R Uzun
Cheated out of the Novelty.
When the rare is no longer rare it's no longer exciting. What the Mitchell Report couldn't tell us about the effects of performance-enhancing drugs on The National Pastime.
Copyright © 2010 B. R Uzun
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