Sometime soon, Alex Rodriguez is going to hit his 600th home run. It might be as early as tonight in Cleveland, it might be a week from now—A-Rod tends to tighten up in any and all big situations—but it is going to happen.
If you were at Yankee Stadium this past weekend, you will no doubt say this is a big deal; that this is historic. Only six men in baseball history have hit 600 home runs so clearly Rodriguez will be entering an exclusive club. This past weekend, every time he came to the plate when the Yankees were playing the Kansas City Royals, specially marked baseballs were put in play and flashbulbs went off all around the ballpark on every pitch.
They went home disappointed. They did not get to see history.
My question is this: Who among us believes that A-Rod IS about to make history? Who among us—other than loyal Yankee fans—really and truly cares. Rodriguez is a confessed steroid user. He says he used during three seasons (2001-2003). Even if we believe his version of the story he is still tainted. The argument being made these days among my seamhead friends in the media is this: You can claim that everyone who has ever played the game is tainted in some way. Babe Ruth played in an all-white sport (not his fault) and Henry Aaron and Willie Mays played in the amphetamines era and, of course Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and Rodriguez have all been sullied by steroids.
So, since everyone is guilty, no one is guilty. Right?
The greatest myth about the steroid era is that there were no rules against them until the union and owners finally got together on drug-testing in 2003. In fact, Fay Vincent banned steroids in 1991 after they were declared illegal by the government but the ban was toothless since there was no testing and the government wasn’t exactly storming clubhouses demanding that players be tested. The players knew the drugs were illegal and against the rules. They also knew they weren’t very likely to get caught.
Of course a lot of players have been caught: some by good reporting and some by The Mitchell Report. Others have simply been considered guilty due to overwhelming circumstantial evidence—which, given that this isn’t a court of law and we aren’t talking about sending people to jail in most cases—is evidence enough.
So, back to the question: Does anyone really care about A-Rod hitting his 600th home run?
My answer is no. I didn’t care when Bonds hit 756 and I was horrified when Henry Aaron showed up on that video congratulating him. It was bad enough that Bud Selig trailed him for a while during the chase; bad enough (though hardly surprising) that ESPN glorified him but really depressing when Aaron gave in and did the video.
Now, A-Rod isn’t as surly a guy as Bonds. He tries to say all the right things—though he often fails. But he’s just as tainted as far as I’m concerned and just as un-deserving of the Hall of Fame down the road as Bonds is undeserving of it now. Here’s my bet: A-Rod will make the Hall on the first ballot; second ballot at worst. Why? Because the excuse-makers are already coming out of the woodwork on his behalf; because there will be a greater passage of time and because people will by the argument that only 136 of his 868 career home runs were steroid-induced. And let’s not forget the ever-popular, “how many of the pitchers he faced were juiced?” argument.
Here’s what I think and have always thought: None of these guys should ever go in. Not Bonds, not Sosa, not Clemens, not A-Rod, not McGwire, not Palmeiro—none of them. If there’s any evidence at all (and in most of these cases there is plenty) then they’re guilty. My 600 home run club is Aaron, Ruth, Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. That’s it. Forget Bonds, forget Sosa and forget A-Rod whenever he gets there.
If you want to make the argument that eliminating all bad guys from the Hall of Fame would remove about 90 percent of the guys who are in there, that’s fine. But there is a difference between being a bad guy and being a cheat. These guys cheated the game and they damaged the game. Baseball is going to be talking about steroids for years to come. Rodriguez will probably play at least another five years and then it will be another five years before he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot. That guarantees that steroids will be talked about for at least 10 more years—if not longer.
So let’s drop the, ‘everyone’s guilty, so no one’s guilty,’ argument. If you think Ken Griffey Jr. is guilty of something, prove it. The same with Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn—some have made the argument that we don’t KNOW they were clean, thus they could be dirty, thus we should treat them as dirty. Seriously, people have said that.
So when A-Rod hits No. 600 I know it will be played and replayed everywhere and people will call it historic and wonder when No. 700 will come. John Sterling will practically bust a gut screaming, ‘A-Rod hit an A-bomb,’ (I truly hate that call and find it offensive) on Yankees radio and ESPN will probably do an hour long special called, “The Homer,” with A-Rod --on the 16th question--saying he plans to celebrate in…Miami.
Fine. I hope everyone has a good time. I’ll be watching the Mets not score any runs while Jerry Manuel insists that they are right on the verge of a breakthrough.