Sunday, September 02, 2007

Things of beauty: home runs, once again

I enjoy listening to Baltimore's Frank Deford's Wednesday NPR colloquys on sports and life. Thomas Boswell, I anticipate reading in the Washington Post, especially on things baseball.

Here, from Saturday's edition, is Boswell on the return of delight in the arc of a home run swat:

The Steroid Era is over in baseball. A period that began almost 20 years ago has quietly receded while few were watching. In part, you can thank Barry Bonds.

If you drop by RFK Stadium this weekend when the Nationals play the Giants, don't bother to boo Bonds. That's old news. Few, except those who still believe in the tooth fairy, think that he holds any major career record, except perhaps for gall. His real contribution to baseball is now clear; the scandals surrounding him, regardless of their exact merits, have accidentally dragged an enormous problem out of the game's dark corners and brought it into the blazing light of scrutiny.

Once again, most of the power in baseball is being produced the old-fashioned way -- naturally. From a statistical point of view, the game might as well be back in 1957, half-a-century ago. Then, four players also hit 40 homers: Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Sievers and Duke Snider. However, there were only 16 teams producing sluggers then vs. 30 now.

Nonetheless, a huge tide in the game has turned at last. The realization is crystallizing that, in the same summer when teeth were gnashed from coast-to-coast over Bonds's 756th homer, the steroid epidemic had probably already run its course.

Now, with an appropriate symmetry, the 43-year-old Bonds is fading from center stage just as the issue with which he will always be associated is starting to become irrelevant, too. Before long, as home run totals look "normal" once again, we will regain our sweet suspension of disbelief as a powerful drive leaves the bat and heads toward the upper deck.

The game's most distinctive feat -- the single swing, the gasp of recognition as we sense the ball is going, gone and, finally, the leisurely home run trot -- may not be accomplished as often. But at least our pleasure and, occasionally, even our amazement, will be spontaneous, genuine and complete once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment here ...