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It just isn't the same, and it isn't all A-Rod's fault. Sure, he's one of the admitted culprits of the steroid era. But he shouldn't take all the blame for the fact that the run-up to his 600th home run has been a bit of a bore.
It took the Yankees' third baseman 2,354 games to reach No. 599; after Tuesday night's oh-fer in Cleveland, it's been another five games waiting for the mini-milestone to happen.
|By now, Alex Rodriguez knows the pose when he hits a home run.|
In another age, each of his at-bats leading up to No. 600 would be cause for rapt anticipation among sports fans. Not just baseball fans. Sports fans. Each at-bat leading up to 600 would have us running for the remote. On each pitch, we'd be holding our breath.
But right now, it doesn't feel like that.
A-Rod could hit No. 600 as soon as Wednesday night against the Indians; and if he does -- or whenever he does -- the journey to get there will still be worth celebrating, worth lauding. After all, he'll be only the seventh player to reach that number. But rescheduling my day so as not to miss any of his trips to the plate?
Not so much.
If you live outside of New York, or if you aren't a Yankees fan, chances are you're paying a lot of attention to this only if it's your job to stay on top of it -- say, if you're a Yankees beat writer or an anchor for a New York-area station or ESPN.
Otherwise it hasn't changed your days or nights one iota.
Watch the Yankees or mow the lawn? The lawn got mowed.
Watch the Yankees or see "Salt"? Angelina Jolie. Need I say more? (I give it a thumbs-up, by the way.)
Watch the Yankees or play golf? Please.
The sad truth is, we don't really care all that much about baseball's home run record anymore, whether it's Barry Bonds' all-time mark of 762 or, if you're in that camp, Hank Aaron's 755. At least, we don't really care the way we used to.
It once was the most revered record in sports; now it's the most shamed. It just isn't held in the same esteem, and I'm not sure it ever will be again.
|The reason we don't care as much as we used to? This pretty much sums it up.|
In one sense, we fans are a scorned love. Our hearts were broken and we're just not going to let ourselves go there again, at least not anytime soon.
Again, that isn't a reason to hold it against A-Rod, at least not wholly. I'm not even pinning it all on Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Bonds or any of the myriad other players whose faces will forever adorn baseball's steroid era plaques. Those guys, as recent Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson so eloquently put it during his speech in Cooperstown last weekend, are the "individuals who have chosen the wrong road and chosen that as their legacy."
Nor am I blaming it all on "baseball," that faceless entity sometimes said to have caused the steroid mess by turning a blind eye to performance-enhancing drugs. In an effort to revive the game's popularity a decade ago, goes that line of thinking, baseball officials allowed a few better-than-average players to begin jacking balls way beyond the limits of mortal men. They knew we dug the long ball.
Well, we just don't dig it anymore. At least not that way. And there's enough blame to go around for everybody, including A-Rod.
Of course, once No. 600 is behind us, we probably won't have to worry about the next "milestone" for quite a while, anyway. Rodriguez is the only active ballplayer with a realistic chance of breaking the all-time mark. Yet he turned 35 on Tuesday, and he's on track to hit about 27 homers this season. That would be his lowest output for any "healthy" season since 1997, when he hit 23.
If he plays seven more seasons (the length of his current Yankees contract), he'd have to average 22 home runs per year to pass Bonds. By then, he'd be 42.
The only other active player who appears to have a chance of reaching 600 in the near future is 38-year-old Manny Ramirez, who is 46 shy of it with 554. But he's hit only eight home runs in 2010; at this pace, he'll easily be on the other side of 40 by the time he reaches 600.
|Pujols has driven in over 100 runs in each of his 10 seasons in the big leagues.|
Otherwise, the only active players with more than 400 home runs are Chipper Jones (433), Vladimir Guerrero (427), Giambi (412 cough) and Andruw Jones, who quietly reached 400 on July 11 -- I'm sure you remember exactly what you were doing when that happened -- and now stands at 401.
But there is one man who could make us care about dingers and records again -- and maybe even sooner than we think.
So far (so far) the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols seems unaffected by anything that's come before to erode our passion for the home run. He swings with grace and power and seems to have been carved for the sole purpose of making us dig the long ball again.
He has 389 of them in his career; and at just 30 years old, he still yanks them out at a prodigious clip.
In fact, with 23 already in 99 games this season, he should reach 400 before the end of 2010. He hits one just over every four games, which would put No. 400 somewhere around, oh, Sept. 19, when the Cardinals are at home against the San Diego Padres.
Sure, he'll still be about 200 home runs behind A-Rod and 362 shy of Bonds. But write it down. We just might be ready to care again. Maybe.
Roy S. Johnson, a veteran sports journalist and media consultant, is the editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.
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