Baseball Records? Meaningless
Baseball fans and writers (too often the same) who are upset about steroids are primarily concerned about their effect on the game’s records, starting with the one for most career home runs.
I’m very concerned about steroids but my primary concern is their effect on the NFL, where the buffed up athletes are creating great damage to themselves, including brain damage that leads to mental problems, even early death, as they age. But football fans don’t seem to care about that because they’re deep into their Fantasy Football leagues.
The concern that steroids are affecting baseball records is ridiculous. There have been so many ways that baseball records have been distorted that they are largely meaningless.
Much of that is due to the parks. In the beginning, parks were all in the city and had to fit into the block in which they sat. (AT&T Park is like that today). The extreme example was the Polo Grounds, home of the Giants until they moved to San Francisco. Straight-away center field was more than 450 feet but down each foul line. It was barely over 250 feet. Mel Ott took advantage of the short right field line, hitting countless numbers of home runs which barely exceed 260 feet. He wound up with 511 career homers. Playing in a park with deeper foul lines, he probably wouldn’t have reached 400.
Flash forward many years to Hank Aaron’s career. Aaron was a very good hitter with good but not great power, but he played most of his career in parks conducive to hitting home runs. That was especially true about his last park, in Atlanta, which was dubbed “The Launching Pad.” So, Aaron, who never had more than 47 homers in a season, ended his career by surpassing Babe Ruth’s career record. Is there anybody out there who thinks Aaron had more power than Ruth?
Willie Mays had a shot at Ruth’s record, twice exceeding 50 homers in parks which did not reward hitters who did not hit the ball straight down the right field line. Mays finished with 660, behind Aaron but, again the question, is there anybody out there who thinks Aaron had more power than Mays?
Baseball commissioner ignored the steroids issue when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa buried the old season marks of Roger Maris and Ruth because fans loved that. That home run race helped bring back fans who were turned off by the cancellation of the World Series in 1994 – because Selig and the players union couldn’t agree on a new labor contract.
Remind me again why Selig was good for baseball. I keep forgetting.
Selig got religion when the career home run mark established by Aaron was threatened by Barry Bonds because Aaron had been his childhood hero.
Bonds doesn’t deserve to have the career home run mark – but, neither did Aaron.
There have been many other ways that records have been manipulated. Probably the most transparent was in the ‘30s when owners were desperate to get fans back to the parks during the Depression era. Offense is always what sells tickets so they had the ball juiced (tighter wrapping of the ball will do it) and offensive stats were off the wall. Hack Wilson had 56 home runs, the National League record until McGwire broke it) and 190 RBIs, which still stands as the major league record. Bill Terry hit .401, the last National Leaguer to surpass .400. The baseball Hall of Fame has a disproportionate number of hitters from that decade because their stats were artificially inflated.
There are other, less-publicized records which will never be even approached because the game has changed. Juan Marichal had one more complete game than wins (244/243) but managers watch pitch counts so closely these days that it’s rare when a starter pitches a complete game.
And, ball parks still affect stats. It’s easy to hit a home run in the Houston bandbox, nearly impossible in Kansas City’s cavernous park.
So, if you dislike steroids use, I’m with you, but base your objections on the effect they have on a player’s health, not his statistics.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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