Everyone on the planet has given their stance on Ryan Bruan it seems. Many more will weigh in when the judgment comes down in regards to Alex Rodriguez. The larger question though remains, what does this mean for baseball as a whole, and the Baltimore Orioles specifically.
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Chris Davis is famously chasing the American League home run record this season. He clubbed 37 home runs before the All-Star Game, and appears on his way to challenging a pretty significant mark historically. Some baseball fans, writers, analysts will tell you that should Davis break Roger Maris’ record he would be the all-time single season home run king.
I would not.
It helps, in my opinion, to put everything into a more historical perspective when looking at present day events like this. Jim Caple touched on this recently in a piece for ESPN where he discussed the 2013 Hall of Fame class. I won’t discuss the Hall of Fame, but Caple’s piece brings up a few very good points that I’ll expand on.
Since the late 1800′s there have been roughly 7 widely agreed upon eras of Major League Baseball. The first Era was what can only be described as the formative years for baseball. For example:
A base on balls once required three balls, then nine, then eight, then seven. then six, then back to seven before finally landing at four. Pitching distances were moved from 45 feet to 50 feet to 60.5 feet. For a while, pitchers were prohibited to throw over the shoulder and batters were permitted to call for high or low strikes to be thrown to them.
This period lasted from 1876 – 1900 or so, and featured players like Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie and Buck Ewing. Buck Ewing made it in hitting for a triple slash of .303/.351/.456 during his career. I’d like to think that he’d hit a few points lower when he couldn’t request to have belt-high pitches thrown in every at bat.
The most famous period in baseball followed, with players like Ty Cobb excelling during the Dead Ball Era. This period of baseball history was the reign of the pitcher, as doctored balls, ‘illegal pitches’ and general deviousness was common from the mound. Offense was down in a big way, and the players that excelled, like Cobb, had a unique skill set that emphasized hitting for contact and stealing bases.
Fast forward to the modern game, and we have the Long Ball or Steroid Era. Muscled power hitters like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Canseco ruled the game. 400′ home runs became the norm, and pitchers just hoped they wouldn’t get lit up on a daily basis. The steroid era was a clear juxtaposition to the Dead Ball Era, but both are major parts of baseball history nonetheless.
To properly put into perspective the tear that Chris Davis has been on this season, it’s important to understand where the game has come from and the players that came before him. Just as many pitchers benefited from the Dead Ball Era, sluggers and aging veterans thrived in the pharmaceutical testing ground that was the clubhouse in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Do the pitchers who excelled at throwing a spit ball, or scuffing the baseball in just the right way in 1905 have their numbers scratched from the record books? No. Should Barry Bonds have an asterisk next to his name when a young fan looks up the home run records. In my opinion, no.
Chris Davis’ season is remarkable. He’s playing so incredibly well that it’s difficult to put it into proper context. When looking back, we shouldn’t ignore parts of baseball history because they weren’t pure, or fair, or convenient. We should say that Chris Davis is having a phenomenal season that is on par with guys like Bonds, Maris, or Sosa. We should say that, as far as anyone knows, Chris Davis is as clean as you can be, and nothing can take that away from him (unless of course, he isn’t).
As Ryan Braun sits at home, presumably watching the Brewers fade in the NL Central he must consider the path that has brought him there. Yes, he clearly used performance enhancing drugs, and he lied about it. Ultimately he got caught. These are all facts. Some more facts about Ryan Braun: he’s a career .312 hitter with a career wRC+ of 148 which is kind of silly. Maybe he’ll never reach those numbers again. Maybe he will.
He’ll certainly be booed, just as A-Rod has (and will be if he ever plays again), or David Ortiz has, or Andy Pettitte was. There’s some proof, there’s a lot of speculation, and there’s the fact that this is just the state of things in the ‘Long Ball Era’.
What Chris Davis is doing this season is remarkable. We don’t need to throw out the performance of other players to make it even more impressive.
So I’d like to wrap this post up with some discussion points, as I think that this topic certainly brings out vastly different opinions from fans and analysts alike.
How do you feel about Chris Davis’ pursuit of the AL Home Run Record, and is that the ‘real’ MLB home run record?
How would you feel if a major Oriole were implicated in the Biogenesis scandal OR tested positive for PEDs?
I certainly know how I feel about these questions, but would love to hear from the rest of the Orioles fans out there. The only thing that will help move on into the next Era of baseball is time, and honest discussion about this Era.