There is never a time -- never a time -- when I look at
I KNOW he hit 609 home runs in his career (man, 600 home runs; even as I type the words, they shock). I KNOW that from 1996 through 2003 -- just eight seasons -- he hit more home runs than
In fact, he hit more home runs in those eight seasons (408 homers) than
I KNOW these things, but they jolt me a bit every time. Sammy Sosa's career is a perpetual surprise, sort of like how watching the movie
Here's the thing about Sosa's surprise home run numbers: They're not much fun now. This isn't specifically about Sosa. One of the enduring byproducts of the Selig Era is that home run numbers are simply not as much fun. No matter where you may stand on the whole performance-enhancing drug issue -- maybe you are sickened by steroid use, maybe you don't care at all, maybe you are in the middle -- it's clear that the wonder of a player having a huge home run season is mostly gone.
Not to go all nostalgic, but sure, I remember being a kid when
But in my mind, no other sport has anything quite like the home run. No other statistic counts quite as well. You don't have to average homers by game to have them make sense like you do basketball points or rushing yards. You don't have to double-count homers like you do touchdowns (if a running back scores, the offensive line and play-caller have to get some credit) or goals (which generally feature an assist). A homer is all yours.
We as fans have long totaled up home runs every way possible -- we total up home runs hit in games, home runs hit in weeks, home runs hit in months. During the season, we might double up home runs at the midway point of the season just to speculate how many a player might hit. We count home runs for seasons and careers. And every step along the way, home run numbers can mean something to baseball fans. The numbers can give us an image. Pick a number -- any number, 1 to 755 -- and it's like that number will represent a player to me.
1: Well, that's
23: I immediately think of
27: I think of
32: I think of
Then, of course, there are the big numbers: 493 is
But even less famous home run numbers mean something: Say, 252 homers?
And I don't mean to say that home run numbers are lost now -- I still love them. But, yeah, they don't mean quite as much, can't mean as much. It has changed the last 10 years. Look: I can't really tell you I had much reaction when the
Sosa denies everything, and he's innocent until proven guilty, but this is part of the problem with the Selig Era -- lines are blurred. What is innocent? What is guilty? How should we view Sammy Sosa if he took steroids? How should we view him if he did not and this report is wrong? Are we really going to have to endure a new name leaking out every couple of months for the next 10 years? Who the heck wants that? And, yet again people wonder: "What about the Hall of Fame?"
I guess over time I've just become desensitized to the whole thing. Many took steroids. Many celebrated the big numbers. The union and management did not put in testing for a long time. I don't mean to downplay it or blow it all of proportion either. I just have no rage or disbelief left to give. This is baseball in the Selig Era. Now, at the least, there's testing and there's awareness and there's a sense (right or wrong) that the numbers have pulled back a little bit.
But no matter what, it's not as much fun to count home runs. As of right now,
And Sosa's remarkable home run numbers? They still surprise me, but probably not the way they once did. Once, a few years ago, I wrote a column about how much I loved the bubble gum they put in baseball card packs. Well, someone then sent me a huge box of that baseball card bubble gum. I was really pumped up. I chewed the gum and chewed it, and soon my tongue was raw, and my jaws were sore and the gum which had thrilled me as a boy, well, yeah, I got sick of it. I guess this is the same thing.