Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 4, 2009

MARK MAYNARD: The count is lost on me


It used to be the numbers were all that needed to be said:

--500 home runs.

--600 home runs.

--714 home runs.

--756 home runs.

--61 home runs in a season.

--3,000 hits.

--3,000 strikeouts.

--300 victories.

But the steroids era has robbed the baseball purist. The numbers are skewed, almost fabricated. Some of baseball’s greatest achievements, those numbers we grew up with, just don’t mean that much anymore.

They have been smashed, put aside, presumably by cheaters.

Who knows who to believe? The Steroid Era is one big asterisk for anyone who played. Lumping them together seems unfair, but what else do you do?

We know some of the suspects and most of them are the record-breakers. But there’s probably still a lot we don’t and won’t ever know, too.

How can 500 home runs mean much when Barry Bonds hit 762?

You thought Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs would stand forever? Posh! Mark McGwire bombed 70 in 1998, the same year Sammy Sosa broke the record with 65.

After 37 years of nobody coming close to Maris’ amazing mark, it came crashing down twice in the same season. And we never blinked. In fact, it was thought that McGwire and Sosa were saviors of baseball for what they were accomplishing.

Three years later, a jealous Bonds went on a tear of his own and blasted 73 home runs to break the record again.

Not long after that, Bonds zoomed past Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron as the all-time home run champion.

But with the steroid fallout, we become numb to the numbers, the same numbers we grew up revering.

Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Ken Caminati, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez and Jose Canseco are some of the known faces of the Steroid Era.

Pitchers are involved, too. Some of the accused or admited users are Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown and Andy Pettitte.

Randy Johnson, arguably one of the most dominant left-handers ever, won his 300th game on Thursday against the Washington Nationals. He became the 24th — and maybe the last — to reach that milestone.

Johnson is still throwing hard in his 40s, even throwing a perfect game in 2004 in Atlanta. But nobody has linked him to steriod use and hopefully his name won’t show up on a list somewhere. How much better may his numbers have been if he hadn’t faced some of the faces of the steroid age?

Johnson’s 300th hasn’t been met with much fanfare. Maybe it’s because he has no history with his current team, the San Francisco Giants. It’s too bad, though, because winning 300 is still a major achievement. Johnson has also surpassed 4,000 strikeouts, making him only the fourth player to have 300 wins and 4,000 strikeouts.

Three-thousand strikeouts used to be the watermark and 4,000 was practically unapproachable. Clemens has 4,672 of them in his books, so those numbers become kind of numb, too.

Tom Glavine, who is 43, was the last 300-game winner prior to Johnson. He got his walking papers unceremoniously on Wednesday when the Braves released him. What a shame.

That’s two 300-game winners without much celebration this week.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.