"Holy Toledo!"

June 21, 2007

Sosa Hits #600 – The Shot Nobody Heard

Filed under: Baseball — Bill @ 3:39 am

Wednesday June 20, 2007 was a good day for Sammy Sosa and a sad day for major league baseball.  In the fifth inning Sosa connected on a 1-2 pitch hitting his 600th home run off of Jason Marquis.  It’s ironic that he would reach such a historic feat against his old team the “cursed” Chicago Cubs.

Sammy Sosa, age 38, is one of only five major league players to reach the 600 home run club, joining Henry Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.  One would think this would be a magical day, a day all of baseball would celebrate.  Aside from those fans of the Texas Rangers, and a few Cubs fans who still love Sammy, the rest of the world seemed to care less.

What does this say about a sport that used to be known as “the national pastime?”

It speaks volumes.  No longer does the record book mean anything in comparison with the greats of the past.  As someone once said, “When I saw a marginal hitting second baseman hit 40 home runs I knew either the bal was juiced, the bat was juiced, or the player was juiced.”

Where was the commissioner of baseball Bud Selig on this historic occasion?  My guess is that he was in his office watching a replays of a football games on the NFL Network.  He still hasn’t decided if he will be on hand when Barry Bonds goes for the all-time home run record.  Would NBA commissioner David Stern miss such a moment if this were happening in the NBA?  Where would you expect to find Pete Rozelle or Paul Tagliabue if the NFL were to have such a historic moment?

Major league baseball management is living in limbo land.  They like the money all these steroid filled home run hitters bring into their ballparks, but they have to pretend to care that they don’t like steroids.

The ill-fated strike of 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series, it was the first time ever due to a labor disagreement.  Fans were outraged, they weren’t sympathetic with either side, and attendance was suffering.  Along came a little bottle of Andro, and two guys named McGwire & Sosa in 1998.  These two started hitting home runs like Mickey Mantle in a church softball league, and it brought baseball alive again.

Attendance was up, baseball television rating went up, and the owners were making millions.  There were signs of foul play, managers noticed, GM’s knew, and unless the owners were living in fantasy land they also knew what was going on behind the scenes.  A  singles hitter named Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs and he had never once hit as many as 30 before.

The money was rolling in, owners were thrilled, so why should hey rock the boat?

Everything changes when two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams) blew the lid off baseball’s dirty little secret.  First came the now famous articles in the Chronicle, then came their interview in Sports Illustrated, followed by a fact-filled book.  Public outcry became so loud that Congress got involved.

What baseball fan will ever forget the day in March, 2005, when Sosa, McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, and Jose Canseco testified before Congress?

Bud Selig and the owners promised Congress & the fans that they would clean up the game.  They bargained with the players union to come up with a testing process that both sides could live with.  What they did accomplish was urine testing for certain types of anabolic steroids, and a new harsh punishment system for players who tested positive.  What they didn’t address was a test for Human Growth Hormones (HGH), which can only be discovered with a blood test.  Congress was pacified, the owners and the union looked like they were doing something, but the players knew they could still beat the system. 

Agents, who also have their hands in this money filled pie, now have a financial incentive to inform their players as to which type of steroids that baseball is looking for.  Some were better at it than others, and as a result some players still managed to get caught using steroids.

In one way this was good for baseball as far as management was concerned.  While no major stars tested positive, it did demonstrate that the new system was “effective.”

A prime example of baseball’s attitude towards steroids can be found in a player named Jason Giambi.  The New York Yankees agreed to pay Giambi well over $100 million to be their new star first baseman.  The Yankees knew what they were getting when they signed Giambi.  Having come from Oakland, Jason Giambi’s best friend and former teammate was Mark McGwire.  Jose Canseco also played with Giambi in Oakland.  Before Giambi started “working out” with his friend McGwire, Jason was known as a doubles hitter with average power.  Within a year Giambi’s muscles ballooned up and so did his power numbers.  He quickly become one of the leagues premier power hitters, and as a result a star.

A year after signing his huge contract with the Yankees, baseball’s new rules on steroid testing began.  Giambi was one of several players who testified in the Grand Jury investigating suspected steroid supplier BALCO.  According to leaked testimony Giambi admitted to the Grand Jury that he had taken steroids.  A few months later in a press conference a tearful Giambi apologized to his fans, but for specifically what he was apologizing for he wouldn’t say.

The very next spring Jason showed up noticeably lighter, and to nobody’s surprise his power number fell off significantly.  By his past seasons he had a terrible year.

Enter the New York Yankees management.  According to many credible reports the Yankees were suddenly considering legal action in an effort to void Jason Giambi’s contract. 

The next spring Giambi showed up all pumped up again and his power returned.  Yankee management was no longer taking about his contract.

Recently Giambi made another apology, and all but admitted he was taking steroids or HGH.  His production has never been quite the same since his days in Oakland before baseball changed it’s steroid policy.  Once again the Yankees have brought up the subject of trying to void his contract, and that matter is still ongoing.

What is the message the Yankees seem to be sending to Jason Giambi?  Keep doing whatever it is you were doing to be such a great power hitter (so long as we don’t hear about it) and we won’t screw with your contract.

And so it is with the management of major league baseball.

Baseball is still doing very well but fans know what is going on.  The owners know it too, but so long as they are making money nothing will be done.  Barry Bonds is forever going to be considered a cheater no matter how many home runs he hits.  Guys like Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero, who would normally be locks for the Hall Of Fame, may never get to Cooperstown except on a bus.  And on a night when Sammy Sosa hits his historic 600th home run nobody cares.


The 600 Home Run Club:

6-20-2007: Sammy Sosa, age 38, hits HR #600 off Jason Marquis of the Chicago Cubs.

8-9-2002: Barry Bonds, age 38, hits HR #600 off Kip Wells of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

4-27-1971: Henry Aaron, age 37, hits HR #600 off Gaylord Perry of the San Francisco Giants.

9-29-1969: Willie Mays, age 38, hits HR #600 off Mike Corkins of the San Diego Padres.

8-21-1931: Babe Ruth, age 36,  hits HR #600 against the St.Louis Browns.  The story in the New York Times runs on page 11.  Ruth rewards a boy with $10 for returning the historic baseball!


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