Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The taint remains

He creeps up on the thing now like a night-borne thief, without tumult and without shouting. Alex Rodriguez is five home runs away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on the alltime list with 660, and yet you would never know it.

In a game built more than any other on the pursuit of numbers, the silence around this particular pursuit is deafening. Even Rodriguez' own team, the New York Yankees, remain singularly unenthused, saying instead they will fight the bonus they're contractually obligated to pay once A-Rod hits No. 660.

The reason?

Because of Rodriguez' serial PED use -- and, perhaps more than that, his serial lying about it -- the Yankees say No. 660 now holds no value. It is, they say in so many words, a worthless number.

A worthless number. In baseball.

There, in five words, is the sourest legacy of the Steroids Era, the one that will ring down loudest through history. The human cost will come later, when the note comes due for all the exotics Steroids Era players have injected/gobbled/applied. The toll on the fabric of the game, though, we can already see and hear. That deafening silence speaks volumes.

The catechism of numbers has always been the bedrock of baseball, its true north and most faithful currency.  A base hit in 2015 carries the same intrinsic value it carried in 1870. One-hundred forty-five years hasn't changed that, and that is the game's unifying force.

So when something happens that throws the numbers into shade, it throws the entire substance of baseball into shade from that day to this.  The unifying force comes undone.

The Blob has been adamant that someday Steroids Era players will be in the Hall of Fame, partly because some PEDs will eventually become legal and common, and partly because to exclude them in bulk would simply leave too gaping a hole. And so Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and the others will be there, with perhaps a notation on their plaques that they played during that period of time known as the Steroids Era.

That in itself, of course, will throw the game into shade. But that's as unavoidable as it is unfortunate.

"Some people are going to want to celebrate (660), some people are not," Rodriguez' own manager, Joe Girardi, said the other day with the next thing to a shrug. "I think it is a personal preference."

How sad is that?


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