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One for the books - again?

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Sen. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, has let it be known that if he could wield the power of the Senate to make it so, favorite son Roger Maris still would hold the major league record for home runs in a season.

Dorgan sponsored legislation, however meaningless, to recognize Maris' 1961 mark of 61 home runs as the true record.

The official record of 73 set by Barry Bonds in 2001 would just be ignored. Likewise, the 70 hit by Mark McGwire in 1998 and the 65 he hit the next season. The 66 hit by Sammy Sosa in 1998? Forgotten, just like the 63 Sosa hit the next year and the 64 he hit in 2001.

Turn back the clock, as if none of it ever happened.

"Some of us think [Maris'] home run record still stands, and that is a sad comment on steroids and baseball," Dorgan said during Senate hearings on the subject last year.

Dorgan isn't alone. The North Dakota state legislature last year passed a resolution urging baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig to reinstate Maris' record.

But if momentum is building for action, it is growing in circumstances that might not satisfy Maris supporters, either: Another major leaguer is threatening to surpass Maris' mark.

With a month left in the season, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has 53 home runs and stands a very good chance of passing Maris.

That raises a question: Would Dorgan and others recognize Howard's total as the record if he indeed passes Maris?

I called Dorgan's office to see if he would consider Howard's total legitimate, given today's stricter steroid testing in baseball. "I haven't heard him talk about it," a spokesman said.

He'd better start talking about it, because it will be a topic of conversation in the closing weeks of the season. Howard's run again will call attention to Dorgan's bid to recognize Maris' mark -- even though, ironically, it might mean Maris would no longer hold the record.

Unless, of course, there are questions about Howard, too, even with baseball's stricter testing policies. It is difficult not to have questions anymore, though I suspect people will want to believe what they are seeing is real, just as they did in 1998.

Howard's push toward the Maris mark just adds to the muck baseball finds itself knee-deep in when it comes to its precious statistical records.

There is no known hard evidence that McGwire or Sosa used performance-enhancing substances to produce those record home run numbers, though the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. And with both men out of baseball, there is no urgency to investigate either one.

Bonds is a different story.

Anything is possible when it comes to baseball's greatest nightmare, who is now on a home run tear and is just 25 shy of Hank Aaron's record career total of 755.

Baseball will have the George Mitchell report as the evidence it needs to either ignore Bonds' home runs or suspend him and keep him from playing next year -- if the federal government doesn't get him first. A second grand jury is investigating perjury and income tax evasion allegations against the Giants slugger.

If baseball decides it won't recognize Bonds' career home run mark, what does that do to the single-season record of 73 -- wipe it off the books?

Would baseball then want to recognize McGwire's 70 home runs as the record, with our lasting vision of him squirming before a Senate committee and refusing to answer questions?Would baseball then have to investigate McGwire and Sosa as well and declare Howard the new record holder?

The Phillies say they are planning no particular celebration if Howard does pass 61 -- at least not yet.

"We haven't even talked about it," spokesman Larry Shenk said. "It is not on the agenda."

It will be.

If Howard passes Maris, look for some Pennsylvania lawmaker to file his own version of the North Dakota resolution. Pennsylvania would become the second state in the country to pass legislation saying that whatever Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did doesn't count.

Thirty-six more states, and we've got a constitutional amendment.