I think it's time to venture out of the Orioles world a little bit, and cover a national story. I can only write about how bad the O's are so many times in a week...
Sammy Sosa hit his 600th career homerun last night, joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and some other guy in the 600 homerun club. Please join me in letting out a collective "So what?"
Let's face it, 600 homeruns ain't what it used to be. I'm not saying that because Aaron's historic 755 is soon to be unjustly relegated to second best ever. I'm saying that because in the age of the steroid, any player who hits 600 homeruns can't be trusted.
The last two people to hit 600 homeruns are Sosa and that other guy. Sosa went on trial before Congress to defend himself against steroid accusations, and the other guy refused to. Sosa has been in the league 18 years, the other guy 21. Sosa, over his career, has averaged 33 homeruns a season, the other guy averages 35. Remarkably, both have done the bulk of their homerun hitting in their twilight years, and neither is deserving of the Hall of Fame.
I wish I could be excited for Sosa. He's a former Oriole, a generally likable guy, and was part of one of baseball's most fun seasons in 1998. Unfortunately, all of that is tainted. His season with the O's was disastrous, and we all know that Baltimore is a hotbed for steroid activity. His likability is limited when you have the thoughts of him taking illegal substances in the back of your mind. And we all know by now that the 1998 season (regarded as a season to save baseball) was a sham. McGwire was juicing, Sosa was juicing, and the whole homerun chase was about as legit as batting practice. Six-hundred homeruns isn't that big a deal when you're physically built to hit the ball 600 feet.
"But Sammy's never been caught using steroids. Why are we putting him on trial more than Bonds?" Well, anonymous question asker, I'm taking Sosa to trial for a plethora of reasons. First, he's in the headlines today. Second, he came back to the majors this year with the sole purpose of hitting his 600th homerun. That, to me, is playing for the wrong reason. It's a totally self centered motivation. He couldn't care how well the Rangers do (which is good, since the Rangers are one of the few teams worse than the O's), and now that his milestone is reached, we get to see him go into shutdown mode before ultimately retiring.
The biggest reason I'm taking Sosa to task today is because he is a known offender. Sure, he has never been caught with the 'roids, but he has been caught cheating. It wasn't too long ago that the headlines were ablaze with news that Sosa was caught with a corked bat. Sosa backpedaled so fast you would have thought he was playing cornerback in the NFL. First, he blamed the batboy. Then, he said it was a batting practice bat. I think in the end he just blamed George W. Bush, and we actually liked that one, so we stuck with it. That, however, does not excuse his use of an illegal bat. Since Sosa has been known to cheat before, how can we be sure that he has not been cheating the whole time.
Baseball is a very high pressure game. Players are called up and asked to perform to a certain standard, and more often than not, only get one shot at the bigs. As a result, players do whatever they can to make sure that the shot lasts as long as possible. For Sosa, it's been a long and rewarding ride. Unfortunately, he is going to end up in a separate annal of baseball lore, alongside "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, and ultimately, that other guy. He'll be remembered as one of those players that had the ability to make the Hall of Fame, but made the wrong decisions along the way. It's because of guys like McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds that we all say "So what?" when someone hits their 600th homerun.