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Alex Rodriguez, PEDs and Baseball’s Rewritten Record Book

Celebration day.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has 599 career home runs at the time of writing.

Roughly 18 years ago on May 3, 1992, Mets slugger Eddie Murray launched his 400th career home run in a 7-0 victory over Atlanta. This was a big deal. I know because I was there.

Unfortunately, neither my father nor his dashingly hansom 5-year-old son actually witnessed Murray’s historic blast due to my typically weak (for a preschooler) 5-year-old bladder.

I had to pee. We missed his at-bat.

I only vaguely remember this day, but know its details intimately as its an anecdote my father occasionally uses to impress friends – the best thing the Hilson family has to a “Good Will Hunting” moment.

Like “You missed Pudge Fisk’s home run? For a girl? You’re kidding me,” only:

You missed Ed Murray? For a Big Gulp? You’re kidding me.

Or something like that. Anyway, fast forward some 12 years when my dad and I bump into an impeccably well-tanned Alex Rodriguez shanking golf balls a couple blocks up from our house.

It’s not every day that one encounters the “greatest living ballplayer” out in the wild (though, actually, this was the first of several run-ins – hell, the guy dropped in on my yearbook class). So my father approached this 6-foot-4-inch glowing mass of orange, said hi and dropped the Murray story in their few seconds of casual conversation.

Heroes of a young Robb Hilson/Members of 400-3000 Club

While I’m impressed with the symmetry of this story, young A-Rod was not impressed with Murray’s 400 homers. And why would he be? If you’re Alex Rodriguez, you’re interested in three things: tanning, aging pop divas and doubling the total of a number once thought to mean something.

Mr. 800, anyone?

I tell you these stories both to impress you via name-dropping and emphasize that 400 career home runs was a huge deal. And it was a huge deal in my lifetime. On that day in May ’92, Murray became the 24th player in Major League history and the second active player (Dave Winfield, 411) to reach the once-momentous milestone.

The last two-plus decades, of course, have so altered baseball’s dynamics as to render these historically hallowed yardsticks inconsequential. The era-defining transformations read like this: diluted talent pool, shrinking ballparks, juiced baseballs, thinning air and – you may have heard – bigger, faster, stronger, more acne-ridden players.

For perspective’s sake, know that a startling 22 players have joined the 400 Club since 1997. Of the 128 players that have reached 300 career homers, 21 are still active and another 36 made their Big League debuts after the 1984 season. Anomalies in this latter bunch include Steve Finley (304), Luis Gonzalez (354) and Greg Vaughn (355), along with household names Sosa, Bagwell, Canseco, Bonds and Green.

Shawn Green. 328.

Performance enhancing drugs have become such a pervasive part of baseball culture that googling any player produces a “name + steroids” search option. They’ve directly produced staggering single-season figures that inspire WTF? double-takes and have more or less turned the backs of baseball cards into incriminating documents the products of look-the-other-way policies.

The Steroid Era transformed the likes of Brady Anderson (50 HR in ’96), Javy Lopez (43 HR in 457 ’03 ABs) and Brett Boone (37, 131, .331 in ’00) into Ruthian sluggers; vaulted McGwire/Sosa into the realm of legend; raised the red flag on any and all contract years; and greased the skids for that damning 162-game freak show that was 2001.

Anderson, au naturale

Of all the laughably inane statistical aberrations of the last 20 or so years, my favorite by far is this: in 2001, Louis Gonzalez of eventual champion Arizona finished with 57 homers, 142 RBI, 128 runs, a .325 average, a godlike 1.117 OPS, 100 walks and 198 hits… and finished third in the NL MVP voting behind the following two he-men.

2. Sammy Sosa – 64 HR, 160 RBI, 146 R, .328 BA, 1.174 OPS, 116 BB, 189 H

1. Barry Bonds – 73 HR, 137 RBI, 129 R, .328 BA, 1.379 OPS, 177 BB, 156 H in… wait for it… 476 at-bats

That Rich Aurilia, Brian Giles and Phil Nevin all topped 36 homers and .940 OPS is notable in its own right.

Are you like me? Are you still dumbfounded by the above even though you recall these players and their superhuman feats all too vividly? Are you still shaking your head at the sportswriter-floated notion that the tinkered spacing on the ball’s seams inflated power output? Are you reminded by every 2010 no-hitter of this generation’s sans-chemicals offensive impotence?

Are you starting to talk yourself into Greg Maddux as the greatest of all-time? Are you starting to realize that he used a knife to kill men in a gunfight?

Or do you instead just look back on the golden years of your childhood and think, “Wow. Baseball was a total joke.”

Contrarians would argue that the Steroids Era is just part and parcel with baseball’s ever-evolving landscape – that the record books are no more or less valid now than they were when a bunch of fat, white guys took advantage of legalized racism.

You want to erase Barry Bonds? Fine. But replace him with Josh Gibson. Still others might counter that power statistics like RBI were never legit measures of success in the first place.

Ultimately the arguments stop and end here: Major League Baseball has forever sacrificed one of its most intrinsic appeals – the mythical lore of its records.

In short, baseball is no longer a numbers game. And it will never be again because many of its sacred touchstones have been blown out of the water and permanently put out of reach.

Nobody will ever surpass 73 home runs in a single season, much less in 476 at-bats. And if he does, he will have done so dishonestly.

L to R: A future home run champion, a cartoon.

Which brings me back to Alex Rodriguez, a confessed cheater who stands on the precipice of 600 home runs and, at a day short of his 35th birthday, within striking distance of several vulnerable all-time marks. Regardless of the surrounding fanfare or lack thereof, A-Rod’s next longball will be bittersweet in that it will remind us of the young man who, not long ago, was anointed our national pastime’s presumed savior.

Rodriguez was going to set the records straight – erase the taint of BALCO, Bonds, 762 and other ill-gotten gains. Instead, his 600 – as with his 700, 756 and 763 – will just re-emphasize the fact that the statistics mean nothing, and worse, that we’re still waiting for a historical restoration that will never come.

– Robbie

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“Architectural Marvel” and Other Google Trends: The Week in Review, Redux

Paradise.

The day of the week with the most potential? Not if I have anything to say about it… Bryan is already here.

Great news. Everything is more expensive in Miami. Everything. Gas (buying solely from BP now to counteract inflation), haircut ($20 from Feliciana at Super Cuts), hipster jeans (that’s the “sales rack”?), beer ($1 Coronas, $3.75 limes), parking meters (cash only) and air (three days, eight total breaths).

It’s not like I didn’t know this, and so I’ve kept costs down the best way I know how: by doing nothing. I would blame this on my lame-ass best friends – one’s taking a real estate crash course, one’s laying diplomatic groundwork in South Africa – but they’re actually both decidedly non-lame. I’ll let it slide. Plus, it’s not like I have a lot to complain about given this kind of daily schedule:

8 a.m. – Think about waking up/decide against it.

11 a.m. – Typical breakfast… with mango.

1-7 p.m. – Poolside blogging, girl watching, coffee shop blogging, lunch… with mango, poolside doing nothing, planning thesis (in head).

I also stumbled upon something today that I stumble upon every day, because I live two blocks away: the renovated University of Miami baseball stadium. A few things you should know about said venue…

1) It use to be an eyesore on par with the equally ugly sorority row houses it neighbors.

2) Cheater/non-UM alum Alex Rodriguez donated $3.9 million to get his name pasted on the outside. The money was quite unexpectedly put to good use… One can only assume that U President Donna Shalala was circumvented in the process.

A match made in… a tanning salon.

3) It’s home to a traditional power that’s won four national championships and would very much like to display the extent of such prestige to street-level passers-by… in theory.

Now do me a favor. As you look over this SC Exclusive “photo essay” of Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Stadium, I’d like you to pay specific attention to point no. 3 and see if you can detect anything wrong with this, uh, picture…

Front entrance, from street level

Thanks, Alex. Well done.

Championship lettering from side view… Clean and attractive

Championship close-up.

Now let’s pull back a bit…

Hmm… Where did the titles go…?

And a bit further…

(*shaking head*)

And a bit futher…

You CANNOT be serious.

So I guess my question to you, Captain Common Sense, is this: who the f*ck decided it was a good idea to plant the trees RIGHT IN FRONT of the national championship signs?

This is a total embarrassment, and yet 1oo percent on par with the Orange Bowl’s (RIP) inconspicuous title signs and tucked-away 58-game home winning streak poster (trust me, it was there).

Come on, guys. If you ran your own hot dog stand, would you hang the “World’s Best Hot Dogs” banner in the back of the kitchen above the starter light?

Any chance of showing off our past with competence, you know, instead of turning our baseball stadium into a big red flag to parents considering sending their children to the UM College of Architecture?

Deep, angry breath…

___________

Let’s play Pros/Cons

Pro: The Indiana Pacers proved Thursday they’ve learned a valuable lesson – namely, white guys don’t win championships. Way to pass on Cole Aldrich, Larry Bird. I know that took incredible restraint.

White people.

Con: Even Jay Bilas hates the NBA Draft.

Pro: After a series of draft week salary dumps, the Miami Heat now have more cap room than God and the Knicks combined.

Con: LeBron/Wade/Bosh… or Wade/Lee/Gay?

Pro: Traffic in Miami made far more palatable by wealth of beautiful women in convertibles.

Con: You thought the MetroRail would get you to the airport? What do you think this is, New York, Boston, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago or any other major American city?

Pro: Two dudes at Wimbledon played the longest match in tennis history: 3 days, 11 hours, 1 Frenchman disproving every negative ethnic stereotype relating to quitting, laziness, and ability to extend a battle overnight.

Con: You didn’t seriously think I’d wake up at 7 to catch the ending.

Last Friday, the President of the Free World was in attendance to see Barack Obama at Nationals Stadium… Or was it Obama in attendance to see Strasburg? Bottom line: both were in the building at the same time.

Also on Friday, three generations of Boston greats convened in Fenway Park, as the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez returned home to David Ortiz and the Red Sox with Roger Clemens looking on from atop the Green Monster.

No truth to the rumor the gathering was part of Stanozolol Giveaway Night.

On Sunday, when asked how the galleries were responding to Tiger Woods, ESPN’s Rick Reilly said, “People at Pebble would cheer Osama Bin Laden if he birdied.”

This is true – Rick Reilly, who I stopped reading in fifth grade out of maturity, actually made this comparison on live TV. Ironically, I would very much like to see Reilly spend the rest of his life in a cave in Pakistan.

Phelps with rodeo clown.

Over the weekend in Alabama, President Obama promised people of the Gulf Coast the government would leave communities affected by the spill better off than it found them… though, it’s still unclear whether the president will lift the drilling moratorium so half the population can go back to work.

“News” broke this week that Rays pitcher Wade Davis hit teammate David Price in the groin with a change-up during a game of catch. This comes after Tampa Bay was kicked in the balls by the Braves and Marlins.

In an unsurprising turn of events, the French soccer team walked out on their coach during practice days after star striker Nicolas Anelka was sent packing for insubordination. Sure France isn’t putting up much of a fight, but hey, at least this time there aren’t armed Germans on the other side.

On Monday, world no. 60 Alejandro Falla pushed six-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer to five sets in the tournament’s opening center court match. Falla, a relative unknown, was actually two sets up on Federer before completely collapsing, or as it’s been known since Sunday, “Channeling his inner Dustin.”

On Thursday, the Washington Wizards selected Kentucky guard John Wall with the no. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. I like this move a lot, though some insist the Wiz already have enough firepower at the point.

On Tuesday, conservative commentators jumped on President Obama for spending his weekend on the golf course.

Chillin.

Look, the guy’s fighting multiple wars, trying to cleanup a disaster in the Gulf, struggling to pass immigration reform, squabbling with top military brass, hanging out with Paul McCartney, attending Nats games, trying to keep up relations in Chicago, and vacationing in the North Carolina mountains with his family.

THE MAN NEEDS A BREAK, ALRIGHT! Lay off, you Palin-loving, right-wing fanatics. These are exactly the kind of things your last president was doing.

No, I’m kidding. Bush wasn’t a Beatles fan.

A Rolling Stone article profiling Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the war effort in Afghanistan hit newsstands today. Though the chief counterinsurgency strategist burnt many a political bridge by roundly offending just about every member of the president’s administration, McChrystal did endear himself to Bryan Holt, who said afterward, “He had me at Bud Light Lime.”

On Wednesday, President Obama relieved the general of his duties. The meeting went something like this…

President Obama: (*uproarious laughter*) Bud Light Lime? BUD LIGHT LIME!? (*more laughter*)

Gen. McChrystal: (*hides head in shame*)

President Obama: (*still laughing*) Sorry, we’re all out. Can I get you a chardonnay?

Gen. McChrystal: (*stands up, turns toward door*)

President Obama: Rahm, bring the good man a mango vodka spritzer, would you?

Gen. McChrystal: (*walks out of Oval Office*)

President Obama: BUD LIGHT LIME! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

No soup for you.

The magazine piece came about when a young, freelance journalist for Rolling Stone convinced the general and his band (of officers) to let him tag along on cross-country travels. A part of me suspects this is all an elaborate Cameron Crowe set piece for the sequel to “Almost Famous.”

The city of Gary, Indiana on Tuesday announced that it would hold a vigil for native son Michael Jackson in a ceremony that can only be described as “timely.”

Here’s your buzzer beater.

America: great at celebrating AND soccer.

– Robbie

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“Obama State of the Union Address” and Other Google Trends: The Week in Review, Redux

 

"We see you, Sports Casualties. We see you."

This is part two in a two-part installment. Please click here to read Bryan Holt’s irreverent commentary on real sports and faux-sports. Or simply scroll down, lazy ass. No, I’m only kidding. Enjoy.

This week we begin with the big guns up in Washington. And since I’m out of Gilbert Arenas jokes, let’s talk about the prez.

On Wednesday night, President Obama addressed a joint Congress in the first of his annual State of the Union addresses. To the chagrin of a befuddled Mike Ditka, the president spoke for 71 minutes without touching once on the collective bargaining agreement, the potential for a 2011 strike, or plans to secure video game royalties for retired Union members.

Obama focused instead on getting the country back to work, calling for the creation of a comprehensive jobs bill only after highlighting recent successes in the anything-is-possible fight to combat unemployment:

New Bills hire Chan Gailey and recent Brewers acquisition Jim Edmonds.

With John Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court justices prominently seated in the chamber’s front left rows, the president tore into the bench’s decision to overhaul campaign finance regulation.

“American elections shouldn’t be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” Obama said.

While Roberts and others remained stoic, justice Sam Alito was caught mouthing the words “not true.”

Moments later, Joe Biden was caught mouthing the words, “I haven’t seen a public undressing like this since Owens-Garcia.”

Some accused the president, who tossed the occasional bone to undeserving Republicans, of using his pulpit as a partisan instrument for political expediency. I agree.

To me, touting tax cuts to the Right when the country is $1.4 trillion in debt seems just as opportunistic as when Wolf Blitzer changed his name to The Situation (Room).

In response to President Obama’s speech, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was so overjoyed that he tried to stick his foot in his mouth. This is what he said:

You “forgot he was black tonight”? I didn’t. Not only was the president by far the coolest guy in the room, he reminded me that I haven’t seen an African American star surrounded by this many incompetent white men since Danny Granger’s Pacers came to town.

On the same night, but on the topic of health care, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, “We’re on the two yard-line. Let’s not give up now.”

I can’t speak to the validity of this statement. I can only tell you that if Congress is really on the two-yard line with a health care package, LaDainian Tomlinson is going to throw a fit if he doesn’t get at least three chances to punch this baby in.

Wrapping up our Washington coverage, both the blogosphere and cable news stations were buzzing when news broke of a State of the Union drinking game making the “rounds” at college campuses.

Politically active students across the nation downed a shot and shouted “You tell the truth!” every time television cameras turned to Rep. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson (R-SC). I don’t know about you, but I think this is just the kind of initiative and youthful creativity we need to make our country great again.

"Bottoms up, Joe!"

Let’s talk sports.

Yankees hero Alex Rodriguez accepted the Baseball Writers’ postseason MVP award during an emotional ceremony in New York Saturday night. According to the Associated Press, A-Rod, who hit .365 with 6 home runs and 18 RBI during the playoffs, turned around his chaotic spring by returning to a simplified mantra: Gym, tan, laundry.

From the AP story: “’Postseason MVP award. Wow,’ Rodriguez said Saturday night. Pausing for effect, he added, ‘What’s next, the good guy award?’”

No, Alex, unfortunately backne and shrinking testicles.

In other steroid offender news, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter “The Inspiration for Fredo Corleone” Angelos inked free agent shortstop/ Mitchell Reporter Miguel Tejada to a 1-year, $6 million deal, greasing the skids for a Hugh Grant-Elizabeth Hurley reunion.

Talk about returning to the scene of the crime. Sports fans haven’t witnessed something this uncomfortable since Bill Romanowski last walked into a CVS.

A week after the formal negotiating deadline, a group chaired by Pittsburgh billionaire mogul Chuck Greenberg and Rangers President Nolan Ryan finally hammered out a deal Saturday to buy the Texas baseball franchise from owner Tom Hicks.

When asked what prompted Hicks’ aggressive attorneys to finally back off the asking price of $570 million, Ryan said, “Away. Away. Away. High and hard.”

The contentious talks dragged on longer than expected as Hicks’ lawyers tried to strong-arm Ryan and Co. despite steady counsel from the White Sox’ Robin Ventura advising otherwise.

"If you want blood, you got it."

Sticking with baseball, on Tuesday, Oakland GM Billy Beane signed free agent pitcher Ben Sheets and his reconstructed right elbow to a 1-year, $10 million contract plus incentives. The move was seen in scouting circles as a partial improvement over Beane’s last offseason when he set $10 million on fire.

In response to Beane’s initial overages, Sheets said in his press conference, “It got me excited and got me thinking about this place. I think we’ll do fantastic this year.”

NO. WAY. Dr. James Andrews was thinking the EXACT SAME THING.

Turning now to fabricated stories, Gators head coach Urban Meyer says he plans to coach his team’s spring practice. Like a typical male, however, Meyer did not apologize to Steve Addazio for leading him on or Chris Mortenson for wasting the best year of his life.

Raiders 80-year-old owner Al Davis announced this week that he will be retaining the services of his current head coach. Davis’ team is coming off a 5-11 season and hasn’t topped the five-win plateau since 2002. Still, whatever happens with the coaching situation, you gotta admire a really old guy for giving Cable a shot.

Not senile, crazy like a fox

On to financial news, top seed producer Monsanto released a promising quarterly report this week and reiterated the strength of its dividend. High seeds Nadal and Venus did not fair as well.

And in futbol, Real Madrid midfielder Christiano Ronaldo was suspended two games for punching Malaga’s Patrick Mtilliga in the nose during the 70th minute of a Jan. 19 La Liga match.

Still, it could’ve been much worse for one of the world’s top athletes. The last time a Ronaldo was grabbing American headlines, it was for an unfortunate nightclub incident involving transvestite prostitutes.

Welcome to Sports Casualties, soccer!

Bringing this puppy full-circle, No. 1-ranked Kentucky basketball fell to a 12-7 South Carolina team after President Obama encouraged the Wildcats by phone to “keep their focus” and “play with the same passion that brought them to the top.”

However, the loss was hardly surprising given how Congressional Democrats have responded to similar pleas.

On a personal note, I would like to relay a moving encounter I had while doing my laundry at a local ‘mat last Friday. Halfway through folding my clothes, a mother and her late-teenage son became transfixed by the Spike channel’s re-airing of Brock Lesnar-Randy Couture on the corner TV. They began nervously cheering for Couture, and I simply didn’t have the heart to break the news. I myself was transfixed – just a salt of the earth family bonding over a gladiatorial bloodsport.

Or, as Bryan Holt would call them, “My kinda people!”

I go in peace.

– Robbie

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