Did you know the Yankees have hit seventy home runs in the month of August, with two games left to play?
Seventy. In one month. That’s a lot of home runs. Of course, that’s been the sentiment around the entire league. A lot of home runs have been hit, and there has been one major reason why.
Wait, just kidding, this isn’t 1998. My bad. Perhaps steroids aren’t as prevalent in ball players anymore as much as it is inside the actual baseball.
The ball is juiced! The new rallying cry of baseball purists of this era is alive and well, but what’s important to note is, they’re not wrong. In the future, this will most certainly be looked upon as the “juiced ball era” just like the time of steroids will be the “steroid era.”
It seems as though in every new era of baseball, there has been something to jeopardize the integrity of the game, and maybe it’s not hurting the entertainment value itself (baseball is making more money than it ever has), but it is hurting the one thing baseball is built around: records.
There is no question the balls have been doctored, whether intentionally or not. Home runs are happening at a record clip, and players who statistically were never home run hitters are suddenly Babe Ruth-esque. This is no secret anymore, and it’s widely talked about around the league, among the fans, and even among the players.
So with the incredible amount of home runs being hit, and nothing seemingly ending that any time soon, it had me wondering.
If someone active in this league, right now, were to break the home run record, how would people perceive it? Would we care? Would we follow? Would we celebrate? Would we champion them the true home run king? Would we scoff? Would we complain? Furthermore, what is the home run record in people’s eyes? Is it Barry Bonds‘ 72 home runs or is it Roger Maris‘ 61?
We are technically in the post-steroid era, and if that’s the case, we should technically be watching clean baseball, so records should mean something again, right?
Unfortunately, the home run record in baseball will always come with controversy, and I’m certain no matter who it is, even if it’s the greatest baseball player living right now in Mike Trout, there will never be unanimous agreement on its relevance.
In short, in my opinion, the home run record is dead. Perhaps a physical asterisk won’t accompany home run number 73, but there will surely be a mental one among enough people where it will never truly feel meaningful again. This is nothing new. Even when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record, it came with controversy (it took him more games than Babe Ruth).
So to some, the home run king is still Ruth. To others, it’s Maris. Still to others, it’s Hank Aaron, and there are even some who consider Bonds the king. He does have the most, after all, steroids or not. However, this is the problem. In every era, there’s a new king, and in every era, the game of baseball is simply different.
So perhaps the only way to move forward while still appreciating this great game is we effectively close the record books on home runs, and we stop comparing players from one generation to another. We take baseball for what it is: a game that looks slightly different in every new era, where great players exist that don’t need to be compared to other great players that existed before them.
The fact is it is impossible to compare players from different generations because the game always has an asterisk. It always has something. It always has a difference. You simply cannot compare Babe Ruth to Mike Trout because Mike Tout can’t play in the 1920’s and Ruth can’t play in 2019. What we can do is choose who the best or most dominant player was in each era, celebrating the fact they were the best in their era of ball, in the time where they had nothing to compare it to but the competition around them. Mike Trout can only compare himself the competition of today, to those around him, in the era of the game he’s in.
The record books are like the Bible to baseball, and part of playing this game is to watch great ball players strive to break records. The problem, though, is now we question everything we watch, instead of enjoying the moments for what they are – all-star players doing all-star things.
Will the home run record book ever actually be closed? Of course not. If a player like Mike Trout broke the home run record, he would be the home run king and it would ultimately be celebrated by Major League Baseball.
However, the conversation will start all over again. Some will find it meaningful. Some won’t. Some will crown him king, some will crown an asterisk over it. Some won’t care whatsoever and some will rejoice it’s no longer Barry Bonds. Wherever you stand, the bottom line is it will be questioned more than it will be celebrated, just like it has over the course of history.
So my question to you is this: If someone broke the home run record today, would you care? Or is the HR record effectively dead?
And could baseball ever find a way to bring it back to life again?