Columns & Blogs

Record is going, thrill already gone

The joy is gone. The astonishment of milestones set by Babe Ruth — Babe Ruth — being eclipsed is gone. The thrill of 1998 is definitely gone.

And I bet chicks no longer dig the long ball.

The home run, so in vogue eight short years ago when fans were held rapt by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, is now so last century. Barry Bonds' attempts at tying Ruth for second all-time on the home run list weren't even selling out in San Francisco before this weekend's set with the rival Dodgers.

Bonds went 0-for-3 on Saturday and remained at 713.

As for the declining interest in the home run, steroids certainly have played a large part. They have so dominated the headlines the past six years that it's hard to believe anyone isn't using them. The pathetic parade in front of Congress did nothing to ease the concerns, not when McGwire refused to talk about the past, Sosa pretended he didn't speak English and Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger in denial even as steroids were likely in his body.

Bonds, who admitted that he "unknowingly" used steroids to the grand jury in the BALCO case, wasn't in Washington, D.C., that day.

But his reputation hasn't survived, either.

The evidence that Bonds — a great player angered at having been passed by good players who were cheating — made a conscious decision to transform his body with steroids is overwhelming.

From the day McGwire was discovered to have been using andro through today, the allure of the home run has been undone by the very people hitting them.

The bottom line is that the accomplishments of McGwire and Sosa and Bonds just don't seem special anymore. They seem manufactured and contrived. Confessed steroids distributor Victor Conte somehow seems as responsible for Bonds' success as the slugger himself.

It's not, however, just the steroids.

It's Bonds' surly personality. He was arguably the best player in baseball in the 1990s. (Ken Griffey Jr. fans will argue). But he was not loved, beloved or even liked. As he has aged, Bonds has become less likeable, more standoffish and harder to embrace.

But even if it were Griffey Jr. or another more affable star stalking Ruth and Hank Aaron, the last decade's overwhelming quantity of home runs — and the endless highlights — have turned

the once-amazing feat into routine.

In his time, Ruth was hitting more home runs than entire teams. Each home run was an event, something magical that didn't happen every day. Now it happens dozens of times a day with everyone from Bonds to the batboy hitting one out.

We should have seen this coming, the steroids and the overkill. Like in 1996, when Baltimore's Brady Anderson clubbed 50 home runs. Or in 1998 when San Diego's Greg Vaughn matched him. Or in 2001 when Arizona's Luis Gonzalez drilled 57. Or when Palmeiro, once traded because the Cubs believed he would never hit for power, amassed nine consecutive seasons of 38 or more home runs.

Uniqueness makes events special. It's why newspapers don't report on every fender-bender, but the 20-car pileup makes it on the front page. Dog bites man. So what? Man bites dog. Now that's a story.

Home runs, even by Bonds as he approaches history, seem to fit in the dog bites man category now. All of which make it difficult to get all that excited about Bonds' amazing home run total or his chase of Ruth, a mythical American figure.

A true comparison of Ruth vs. Bonds on the field, is futile.

Ruth, playing against only white, American-born players, didn't have to deal with specialized relief pitching, West Coast travel, night games or getting pitched around because of a certain guy named Gehrig.

Bonds, even while leaving out his admitted use of steroids, has the advantages of improved sports medicine, computer scouting, bright white baseballs for each at-bat and rock-hard maple bats.

But Ruth changed baseball — the way the game was played, its popularity, its importance. He didn't invent the home run, but he might as well have.

Now Bonds and his generation of enhanced sluggers have done the unimaginable. Not only is Ruth being pushed out of the record books, they've made the home run mundane.