- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

THE LEGITIMATE HEIR TO THE HOME RUN CROWN

The wrists flick and the forearms twitch, just as they have hundreds of times before, and the stitched white bullet soars into the St. Louis sky.

It is a home run for Albert Pujols, the 381st of his career, but the Busch Stadium crowd belts out a roar like it has for none other of Pujols’ majestic shots.

For it is Oct. 4, the last day of the season, and as the ball bounces — fittingly — off the Big Mac Land sign on the left-field upper-deck facade, Pujols extends his arms skyward and bounds around the bases.

Another of baseball’s hallowed marks has fallen. With 62 home runs, Pujols is baseball’s all-time single-season home run king.

What’s that? Barry Bonds hit 73? “Clear”-ly, he had a lot of help.

Mark McGwire? Sammy Sosa? You mean McAndro and a Substance To Be Named Later?

With 31 homers halfway into the season, Pujols — who has never been linked to steroids — is launching an assault on the legitimate, non-PED home run record.

This debate cropped up three years ago when the Phillies’ Ryan Howard popped 58 homers, falling just shy of Maris’ 61 in ‘61.

Though it has been racked by drug abuse, abdication of responsibility and misremembering, baseball is and always will be a numbers game: 56… 511… 2,632… 61.

Some argue that Bonds’ mark is legitimate because he was far from the only steroid user. According to this view, the records should stand but should be remembered as having been set in the so-called “Steroid Era.”

That stance has a profound flaw, however. One of the reasons records are kept in sports is to be able to compare one player to another. Sure, the mound changes height, better equipment comes along and some players get to play half their games in the stratosphere, but the game retains its base. That’s why we can compare Hanley Ramirez to, say, Arky Vaughan.

But the story is different when it comes to PEDs, which were not a change within the game but an invader from without, a numbers-inflating factor the likes of which the game had never seen. But now that factor is banished. In other words, the ability to genuinely compare one player with another, something vital to baseball, simply does not exist when it comes to steroid users.

That’s why, if Pujols hits No. 62 sometime around the first week of October, in the same city where McGwire mesmerized fans 11 years earlier, he can take his rightful place in the game’s lore as the long-awaited, and long-delayed, true successor to Maris and Ruth.

She said what?

“I’m happy for her to be in the final, but I have to face her and defeat her.”

— Venus Williams on facing her sister Serena in Saturday’s Wimbledon final

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