Albert Pujols hit his 499th and 500th major league home runs Tuesday. America mostly yawned. And that has nothing to do with any perceived drop in baseball’s hold on the sporting public.
The home run has lost its luster. The long bombs don’t grip us the way they once did.
Whereas once most of us knew that Mickey Mantle hit 536 home runs, and Jimmie Foxx 534, and Ted Williams 521, and Ernie Banks 512, and Mel Ott 511, now most of us don’t care that Jim Thome has 612, and Manny Ramirez has 555, and Gary Sheffield has 509.
Home runs have become cheap. Even if the steroid era is over, which maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, and even if home run totals have returned to pre-steroid norms, you can’t turn back the clock. Homers have lost their charm.
And here’s an example of how crazy the steroid era made home run numbers. With Pujols’ home runs Wednesday, baseball now has more members (26) in the 500 club than it does hitters who have hit less than 500 but more than 399.
Does that make any sense?
Now, some of those 26 in the 500 club also are in the 600 club. So there are 18 hitters with home run totals in the 500s. But that’s a ridiculous number that shows how many players zipped into the upper reaches of home runs.
Three in the 700s. Five more in the 600s. Eighteen more in the 500s. Twenty-six more in the 400s.
Time was, hitting a bunch of home runs was hard. You had to play a long time and play really well. Now, you don’t have to do that.
Just examine the current players hitting a big number and compare them to the players next to them on the list.
Jason Giambi 438. He’s tied with Andre Dawson.
David Ortiz 435. Next in line is Juan Gonzalez, 434.
Paul Konerko 434. Followed by Cal Ripken (431), Mike Piazza (427) and Billy Williams (426).
Alfonso Soriano has 410. Three more than Duke Snider.
Maybe some of this is generational. Maybe Duke Snider wasn’t all that much better than Alfonso Soriano. But I’d have to be convinced.
This is no slight on Pujols, who is a legitimately great hitter. Well, I guess legit is the wrong term. Shadows of doubt are cast upon all, thanks to the steroid crowd. But Pujols is an historic hitter. But I don’t know that Alex Rodriguez is, and A-Rod is six home runs behind Willie Mays.
I’m not trying to belittle home run hitters. It’s still a very hard thing to do.
In the history of baseball, only 809 players have hit 100 home runs. Only 314 have hit 200, and serious hitters like Bill White (202), Jose Cruz (204) and Felipe Alou (206) barely made it. Only 137 players have hit 300 home runs. Think about that. In the 138-year history of major league baseball, less than one player per season has reached the 300 level. Chuck Klein (300), Rogers Hornsby (301), Fred Lynn (306) and Al Simmons (307) barely made it. Only 51 players have reached 400.
Home runs are hard to hit. But the magic of their numbers have been lost.