June 14, 2007

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LONGSHOTS: Homers create bonds among fans for generations
by Dave Long

The big excitement this weekend is Barry Bonds coming to Fenway Park for the first time in his great and now tainted career. This is a big deal because, barring injury or an unforeseen indictment of some kind, heíll pass Hank Aaronís record 755 for most home runs all-time in baseball history sometime this season.

Oh yes, and thereís also the little matter that he comes here under the cloud of the steroids issue, which has been the biggest story in baseball for several years. At least, that is, in the minds of some ó especially the media. Though, to steal a phrase from the biggest baseball fan to sit in the Oval Office, I contend there is a great silent majority out there who feel the steroid story is a big ho-hum.

Not that it will be quiet for Bonds by a long shot (Iím wondering if anybody can top the guy carrying the blonde doll on a pole a few weeks ago with the sign that read, ďIím with A-RodĒ). By entering the week at 746 he wonít pass Aaron in Boston, but heís still in the center of the storm. Thatís because the all-time home run record has been the most cherished in sports since the day Babe Ruth took over the lead and never looked back. Nothing else is even close these days.

So itís a big deal and the media is all over it, particularly as it relates to the place in history for players linked to the controversy like Mark Mcgwire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds. Yes, using steroids is cheating and cheaters get what they earn ó BUT itís not quite the black-and-white issue for the historical record that many think. Here are a few reasons why itís not black and white and why itís a bigger story than if it were in another sport.

Pitching: How come pitchers have pretty much escaped scrutiny here? If steroids had such a positive impact building strength and shortening injury recovery time do you really think only hitters would use them? I doubt it. Thus if pitchers did and a hitter like A-Rod didnít, doesnít it stand to reason he might hit fewer homers? And if a top pitcher like Roger Clemens were approaching Nolan Ryanís strikeout record while suspected as Bonds is, would it be as big a deal? Maybe, but I donít think so.

Cheating Has Always Gone On: That doesnít make it right, but itís still a fact that guys who did cheat are in the Hall of Fame. For instance Yankee catcher Elston Howard sharpened the snap on his shin guards so he could scuff the ball when Whitey Ford pitched. Holding the ball on the scuff supposedly gave Ford extra movement. Thatís illegal ó right? How come Gaylord Perry never got the flack Bonds has? He never did a thing to dispel the widespread belief he threw a spitter ó which was illegal. Heíll probably deny it today by saying it was a psychological ploy because he wanted hitters thinking it was coming to distract them. And it worked, as he won 326 games and a Cy Young Award in each league in the 1960s and 70s. And when it came time to vote him into the Hall of Fame there wasnít any of the rancor the suspected steroid crew of Bonds, Mark Mcgwire and Sammy Sosa will face. Does that strike you as a double standard?

Owners Love Home Runs: Do you think Ty Cobb and his contemporaries have a beef with their owners? They hit homers in single digits, while the likes of Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx hit them in bushels. You think things changed that much in 10 years? No, they made the ball livelier after seeing how much fans loved watching Ruth go yard. Compare todayís ball to the one used in the Babeís era and then thereís 1987 when Wade Boggs magically hit more than 20 homers (24) for the only time in his career. The fact is owners have always tinkered with the rules and like in the steroid era itís affected where hitters and pitchers fall in the all-time list.

The Hypocrisy of Bud Selig: In baseballís first 90 years 50 home runs were surpassed 14 times by eight different players. Seven are in the Hall of Fame. In the next 16 years it was done 25 times, including the top six best seasons by a group of 14 players that includes, among others, Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn and Luis Gonzalez. Yes, weight training and equipment are better and stadiums are smaller, but with that kind of dramatic increase, are you telling me no one had an inkling of what was going on? I think they did and looked the other way because of the next category. That makes Budís non-appearance when Bonds breaks the record hypocritical.

America Loves Home Runs: The original Yankee Stadium was built with a short porch in right to capitalize on Ruthís power. Flash forward 60 years to Camden Yards opening under the watchful eye of then Orioles president Larry Lucchino and itís no different. The first retro park played to SRO greats for a decade because, in addition to being way cool, it was small and generated homers. It sparked a renaissance in baseball and led to a flood of new, smaller parks all over the country ó like minute Citizens Bank in Philly where Ryan Howard hit 58 in his second season in the majors. You donít think miniature ballparks like these are going to play havoc with the all-time list?

The Babe: Iím sure someone will make a pretty good case for Muhammad Ali, but I say thereís never been a more beloved or daunting figure in sports history. The reason the Babe is still present today is the imprint his gargantuan home runs and outsized personality made on the masses as he transformed how baseball was played. That became ingrained in the baseball culture and was why Roger Maris got booed in 1961 and partly why Aaron received more than 900,000 letters from fans who didnít want him to break Ruthís all-time record in the winter before he did. Thatís why this story is so big.

This isnít to explain away what anyone did. Itís just to say baseball and its rules have changed through the years. Itís had a big impact on the numbers and people tend gloss over things like the fact that the Babe played in an all-white league, which made it less competitive than today. And if you are someone who believes steroids users should get the chair, cheer up, there is good news on the horizon. Bonds will hold it until 2015 tops. Thatís when Red Sox Nation fave Alex Rodriguez should pass him on his way to 800.

Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).


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5/24/2007 Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat