Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis is starting to make this whole hitting home runs thing look way too easy. Things are going so well for him right now that he is on pace to do something only five players in history have done: hit 60 homers in a season.
After hitting a home run Sunday night, raising his total this year to 31 in 83 games, Davis is on pace to hit 61.
But if Davis actually gets to 62, one more than the old record that Roger Maris set with the New York Yankees in 1961—which has since been passed by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds—would that be viewed by the public as the real home run record?
Sosa (three times), McGwire (twice), Bonds (once) and Babe Ruth (once) are the four besides Maris who have hit at least 60 homers in a season.
Bonds, McGwire and Sosa are basically excommunicated from anything that has to do with records in baseball, either because of admissions to using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs or suspected connection to PEDs.
There are a number of people who have to believe that, because of what McGwire admitted to using or what Bonds and Sosa have been accused (h/t USA Today) of in the past, their accomplishments on the field should be completely disregarded.
It should be noted that, even with all the suspicion and wasted taxpayer money spent to bring something against Bonds, all the government could get was an obstruction-of-justice charge. There have been books, most famously Game of Shadows, about the seven-time National League MVP but nothing that holds up in court.
Sosa is believed to be guilty simply because of the era in which he played. There was a report by The New York Times in 2010 that he was on the list of players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003.
So if you are among the people who feel that anything having to do with steroids or performance-enhancing drugs should be wiped from baseball history, you likely consider Maris to be the single-season home run leader and Hank Aaron the career home run leader.
Certainly, there are people within baseball who feel that way. Milwaukee Brewers announcer Bob Uecker on The Dan Patrick Show last week said he still considers Aaron's 755 home runs to be the "true" standard by which all other home run hitters should be measured.
Maris' sons said in 2011 that their father should still be recognized as the single-season home run king.
The Irresponsible Press
With so much skepticism and criticism around the previous generation, you can rest assured that there is a large subset of fans, players (current and former) and executives who want to see Davis break the 61 barrier.
Remember when Jose Bautista was having a breakout season in 2010 with the Toronto Blue Jays? He hit 54 home runs that year after never having hit more than 16 in prior seasons.
There were irresponsible reporters such as Damien Cox of the Toronto Star who felt it prudent to write a piece titled "Gotta At Least Ask The Question" about how Bautista was hitting so many home runs:
When it comes to Jose Bautista, how is it exactly that at the age of 29 he's suddenly become the most dangerous power hitter in baseball?
Chance? Healthy living? Diet? New contact lenses? Comfortable batting gloves?
So even though Major League Baseball had a drug testing system in place, and Bautista has never failed a test, this reporter—who happens to write and live in the city where Bautista was hitting those home runs—felt it necessary to plant the seeds in everyone's mind that something might be going on.
Yet no one has done that with Davis thus far. We are busy celebrating the incredible displays of power he puts on night after night.
That said, one fan did have the guts to ask Davis directly, and he obliged the fan with a direct response:
Why don't others question it? Is it because he has some track record as a power hitter after crushing 33 homers last year? Or that others point to a change in his approach that includes the highest walk rate (10.2 percent) and lowest strikeout rate (26.6 percent) of his career?
At some point someone will call into question whether Davis has been taking performance-enhancing drugs because that is what certain writers are going to do. They want to generate headlines and create controversy, warranted or not.
Erasing the Past
What the people who want to see Davis hit 62 home runs and declare him the single-season home run champion are really saying is that they just want to wipe everything that they don't like from the record books.
Media and fans don't like Bonds because of his attitude and personality, so they made it their mission to destroy him. That is a big reason why he didn't get elected to the Hall of Fame this year, even though he is one of the top five or 10 players in the history of the sport.
There is a lot of revisionist history going on, like the "steroid era" was the worst thing that ever happened to baseball. So it is now the world's job to correct that by sending a message to the best players from that generation.
Yet the media and voters had no problem electing Ty Cobb, who might have been one of the worst human beings in the history of professional sports, into the Hall of Fame. Former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, also in the Hall of Fame, was notorious for his racism.
Are we really trying to paint what Bonds, McGwire and Sosa did in a worse light than people like Cobb and Yawkey, who had active hatred and aggression toward people of other races, creeds or religions?
The point being we—that is fans, analysts, the media, etc.—pick and choose what we want to let in our little baseball club. If we like you, there are always going to be people who defend you no matter what.
I am not saying that Davis isn't worthy of praise—he absolutely is. But it becomes easier to do that when you have Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writing about how modest and humble he is.
We want our athletes, especially the great ones, to have the kind of "aw shucks" attitude that is easy to get behind. When you are the best player on the planet and constantly telling people how great you are, or you have a stand-offish personality, it becomes our mission to bring you down.
It should also be noted that Maris, who has become a much bigger icon with all the steroid and PED controversy in the last 15 years than he ever was when he played, had to deal with MLB using two different records to distinguish his mark set in 162 games and Babe Ruth's set in 154 games.
After Maris died in 1985, The New York Times published an obituary largely about the 1961 season that included quotes from people about their thoughts on that home run chase.
Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was quoted as saying, "Maris has no right to break Ruth's record." What does that even mean? Just because Maris isn't Ruth, the God-like figure who was hitting more home runs than most teams in his day, he had no "right" to break a record?
Baseball lives so much on the past and what has come before that trying to embrace something new becomes difficult. No one wanted to see McGwire break the record until Sosa caught him in the race and the two started smiling on camera all the time.
Davis would give Major League Baseball the excuse that it needs to start celebrating the home run records again. No one talks about it anymore because that would mean actually mentioning the evils of Bonds, Sosa and McGwire.
Long Live the King
With all of the venom and hatred lingering toward Bonds, Sosa and McGwire, Davis is going to get all the recognition as the "honest" challenger to Maris' record. He has gotten away from the speculation cloud, for now, so far and is showing no signs of slowing down.
A lot of season is left and things will change. Bautista hit 31 home runs in the first half of the 2011 season and managed only 12 in the second half.
I could not disagree more with the notion that Maris is still the single-season home run king, or that Davis would be the new champ if he hit 62. You can't just ignore history because you don't like the people at the top or you think they had an unfair advantage.
The dirty little secret that very few bother to look at is that studies have shown that there is no evidence at all that steroids help you hit home runs.
Ignoring the studies certainly makes for a good narrative, but it also points to our inability to find the real answers instead of just accepting things that we are told by the high-powered media.
To me, the home run champion, both single season and career, is Barry Bonds. You can't ignore it just because you don't like things he has been accused of or suspected of doing during his career. It actually happened, and you learn to live with it.
However, despite my insistence, I am also not so naive to think that an overwhelming majority of people still see Maris as the true single-season home run king and would be more than happy to embrace Davis if he hits 62.
And maybe that will be in the best interest of baseball, which is searching for a new wave of heroes it can use to market the game to the world.
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