500? Is it a big deal?

June 1, 2008

About 20 hours ago, as I write this, Manny Ramirez swatted his 500th career home run into the stands at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

With that shot he joins two other Red Sox players – Jimmy Foxx and Ted Williams – in the 500 Home Run Club. Other big names in this club include Sammy Sosa (cheater), Barry Bonds (cheater), Rafael Palmeiro (cheater), Mark McGwire (likely cheater) and a host of true athletes like Ken Griffey, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Harmon Killebrew.

But is 500 homers such a big deal? Many young sluggers right now are on pace to eclipse that mark easily and make this 24-person club (now including Manny) a bloated gathering of hitters with 500 dingers. It’ll soon be like the 2o-homers-in-a-season club was in the early 1980s.

I bring this up because during the 80s I was a Dwight Evans fanatic. I am actually a life-long Evans fan, but as his career wound down I marveled at his numerous 20-HR seasons. It seemed like a feat worth noting in the history books and one that might even get him into Cooperstown. Not hardly.

Evans’ lifetime .272 average and 385 homers don’t put him in the category of Manny or Williams or Foxx. But there should be an intangible measuring stick that gets people into the Hall of Fame.

What about the defense? What about Evans’ cannon of an arm? What about his heart and dedication to the community?

Forgive me while I slide sideways into a rant about where we are as a society”. But, where are we now as a society that arrogance trumps character and pure stats are all that matter in baseball or any sport?

I’m not going to bring up the Hatriots or their cheating ways, and I’m certainly not going to mention how PacMan Jones got away with killing some people and now will likely be playing football again. But where is the line?

Manny has 500 home runs. He’s a train wreck of a defensive player, but that’s because he plays the game like any 11-year-old…with the enthusiasm of youth. And he’s gotten where is he through some hard work and his natural gifts.

But there are plenty of players who are ambivalent and even unappreciative of the audience members who pay to see them perform on their green stage. These are the players who grub the money and deny fans even a glimpse into their superstar lifestyle.

Maybe, for the most part, we can’t have it both ways. There will be a few players like Curt Shilling who connect with the fans. He might be a bible-thumping whack-o right-winger, but he’s not hiding any of that. He’s so much more genuine than 90% of the players in the Majors that even his Christian rhetoric is a breath of fresh air when compared to Tom Brady’s party line about team and team and team and team.

Just for once I’d like Brady to share openly how frustrated he was at his defense for not stopping the Giants. For once I’d like to hear the boy wonder whine about how a perfect season was his goal last year. He’s got the money and the rings, but that’s a record that might stand forever and that could have been Brady’s one shot at it. And for once I’d like to see him take his coach to task for putting a spotlight on the team by cheating.

I guess I’m lamenting the fact that sports are more like Hollywood than real life and the athletes who really matter are the ones we see playing because they really love the activity and not the attention. These include the cyclists, joggers, bocce players and others you see out on the streets, trails and lawns of America every day.

Congratulations Manny. Don’t go changing, you’re still one of the good ones!

More to come…