Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This is a Joke Right?

A deep fly ball to right center field heads into the stands and becomes a souvenir for some lucky fan. The home crowd is pumped up and for good reason; their guy has just given their team the lead. But this is more than just a typical midseason homerun. This is Sammy Sosa’s 600th career homerun. With one swing of the bat he has joined baseball immortality. Aaron, Bonds, Ruth, Mays, and now Sosa. All names are recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. Three are not only already Hall of Famers, but arguably three of the top five or so hitters of all time. Another is going to be the career leader in homeruns sometime later this summer.

And then there’s Sosa. That one aforementioned swing did something more amazing than put him on a list of the most prolific power hitters in the history of baseball. By doing something he had done 599 times before in the majors (and at least dozens of times in the minors when he weighed about as much as an 8th grade girl), he managed to deceive and confuse even the most ardent baseball fan. He caused memory loss in thousands of men and women nation, nay, world wide. In short, he created mass chaos in less than 10 seconds. For the past 24 hours (or more by the time you read this) we have been inundated with talk of Slammin Sammy being included in baseball’s Hall of Fame. This is an inevitable topic when you invoke the names Ruth, Mays, and Aaron, so I wasn’t surprised that it came up. The crazy part? The amount of people (writers, former players, analysts, fans, etc.) who believe that he SHOULD be in the Hall. Are you kidding? Is this the most elaborate Candid Camera show of all time? Where’s Ashton to tell me I’m being Punk’d?

Surely these people remember mini Sosa weighing in at 130 pounds and rocking a fantastic jerry curl back in late 80’s/early 90’s in his first stint with the Rangers, right? Then 5 years later, his arms were bursting out of his Cubs pinstripes. What about the overreactions whenever he was asked about steroids or illegal supplements? The famous shattered bat loaded with cork? The mysterious loss of the English language in front of congress? The .220’s batting average with Baltimore two years ago? The year away from baseball? A noticeably thinner Sammy at spring training this year? No? Everyone forgot about all of that?

Even if people are willing to look past all of that (which is ridiculous), there is one other major problem I have with the bronze plaque of Sosa that is being built: if you were to ask any self proclaimed baseball fan four months ago if Sammy was a Hall of Famer, would even 2% of those people have said yes? Mark McGwire was just sent a resounding message this past summer when he only received about 20% of the vote in his first year of eligibility (75% needed for induction). For better or worse, Sosa and McGwire will forever be linked: both for saving baseball and for starting the social commentary about steroids. If Big Mac, who has a lot fewer question marks, was nowhere near being voted in, why is Sammy a lock all of a sudden? Do 12 homeruns make that big of a difference? Really?

Of course this could lead into a much bigger discussion about the importance society puts on milestones and round numbers, but we’re not getting into that. The real issue here is the double standard we put on our athletes in this country and the message it is sending. Barry Bonds, a self centered and often unfriendly character, is vilified on a daily basis because of his alleged steroid use. But Sammy Sosa, with all of his question marks mentioned earlier, but who happens to be a jolly, media-friendly player, gets an automatic pass from the country? What message does that send? “Hey, it’s ok to take steroids, lie, cheat, and do anything to get ahead, as long as you’re nice about it.” I have lost all faith in the baseball community…

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