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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 Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby and a bunch of other Hall of Famers hit during their entire careers.
In fact, he hit more home runs in those eight seasons (408 homers) than Babe Ruth did in his best eight-year stretch (367, 1920-27). More than Barry Bonds hit in his best eight-year stretch (369, 1997-2004). More than Mark McGwire's best stretch (354) or Jimmie Foxx's (348), or Mickey Mantle's (320), or Willie Mays' (303), or Ralph Kiner's (329), or Jim Thome's (330) or well, anyone else's.
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 This is Spinal Tap always gives me a line I never quite noticed before. It's a strange thing, I never look at a United States map and think, "Holy cow, I didn't realize that New York was east of Chicago." But I always look at Sammy Sosa's career numbers and think, "I cannot believe the guy hit more than 60 home runs THREE times."
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.
Granted, a lot of people who watched Sosa and McGwire and Bonds while they were racking up the numbers on their pages had a great deal of fun. Those guys? For years, they gave us exactly what we wanted. I was there. I remember the cheers. During batting practice. And I suspect that even today, those guys wouldn't trade the cheers for much of anything.