Thursday, June 28, 2007

500 Homers

Frank Thomas hit his 500th homer today, putting him 20th all-time on the HR list. Ken Griffey is at 584, about to pass Frank Robinson and be 6th all-time. Sammy Sosa has 600 homers now, 5th all-time. Rafael Palmeiro has 569, 10th. If Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez hit a hot streak, they'll pass 500 homers by the end of the season, A-Rod's on pace for 60 homers this year and a lock to hit 500 by the end of July. And you know about Bonds.

And yet I have a tough time getting excited for the Hall of Fame for some of these guys. Have we reached a day where big home run numbers just don't mean a lock for Cooperstown? These guys have hit home runs right and left, powered through season upon season, and yet I don't know if I can see all of them in the Hall.

Sure it's hard to compare eras... Babe Ruth hit 136 triples in his career, A-Rod 26, but it's hard to argue that Ruth was a great deal faster than A-Rod. And A-Rod could be much worse: McGwire only hit 6. But it's more than that.

Jim Thome has struck out more times (1,909) than he's gotten a hit (1,806). So did Jose Canseco, at 1,942 strikeouts versus 1,877 hits. Sammy Sosa has struck out 2,194 times in his career, the only player comparable is Reggie Jackson, everyone else's numbers are much lower, some a lot lower - Joe Dimaggio averaged a home run (361) for every one of his strikeouts (369).

500 homers is traditionally a lock for the Hall, yet I - and, I feel, baseball fans everywhere - remain unexcited. In this era of steroids and enhancers, power numbers just don't impress anymore. We can't get excited for a guy who hits more home runs than ever before because we feel it's unearned, that he's tainted the game. But more has been tainted than that, every player who blows us away with home run totals is viewed with suspicion, disrespect, through no fault of his own.

You see, some of these guys deserve the Hall, deserve it badly. Try to make the case that Griffey used steroids. You can't. A glance at his career numbers shows that if he'd started using steroids at the same point Bonds did, it would be Griffey on the cusp of immortality right now. Steroids or no steroids, Griffey is one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game. And yet people still fret that the injury-prone center fielder is a question mark for the Hall because he had all of his best years at the beginning of his career. Whereas Bonds' place is secure, though I doubt he'll draw a lot of cheers on that day. It's a shame.

Some of the greatest hitters in the world are playing in front of us right now, yet we can't admit it to ourselves. We're all too afraid that we're getting tricked into caring about players who'll be revealed to be fakes, cheats, people not worthy of our adulation.

Later this year, Bonds will hit number home run 756, will pass Hank Aaron and become the greatest home run hitter of all time. And we will hate him for it. And we'll hate Sosa for his 600, and Griffey for his 584, and Thome and A-Rod and Manny for their 500. We won't have any reason to, but we've lost our passion for these great numbers, we can't believe in them anymore.

Ultimately, that's the true legacy that Bonds is leaving behind him.


At June 29, 2007 12:01 AM, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

It may be bored more than hatred. If you took the known steroids out of the equation, then Bonds hit 600 a few years ago and is out of baseball now. Sosa and Sheffield would have 390 - 400 and probably be out of baseball by now as well. McGwire similar at around 400.

That would make Griffey's pending 600, with a few playing years still to go look pretty exciting: Will he catch Mays for the #3 all-time? Can he hang on long enough to catch Ruth? Thomas, Thome, A-Rod, and Manny might seem like quite a lot moving into the 500 club in a short time, but still exciting.

There is HR inflation, but given that there are three times as many Americans now - never mind all the Dominicans and Venezuelans - we'd expect an increase in the number of people who can achieve Goal X.

At June 29, 2007 10:26 PM, Anonymous Mr. King said...

ARod is not exactly admired in New England (at least not north of Hartford), but given the Bonds situation, I think we will find ourselves pulling for ARod to beat Bonds record when the time comes. Simply put, like Griffey, there is no suspicion that ARod has ever juiced. But will he do it in a Yankee uniform?


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