Our long national nightmare is finally over…

[tag]Barry Bonds[/tag] hit 756 last night and I literally couldn’t stand to watch it. I was out of the room when it happened and Ryan came running in, very excitedly to tell me. I came out into the living room and saw Barry jog around 3rd and make it to home with all the fireworks and streamers falling all over the ballpark, and it honestly just gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.

I honestly and truly do not care about use of performance enhancing drugs. I’ve said “so what” to that argument so many times I’m tired of hearing myself say it. Granted, Bonds is a talented hitter with better hand/eye coordination than anyone I’ve ever seen play the game, but he’s still a jackass. I find it impossible to root for him and I found the spectacle the [tag]Giants[/tag] staged surrounding that home run hit beyond excessive. I guess [tag]Peter McGowan[/tag] wanted to make sure the fans got their money’s worth out of seeing what is ultimately not a very interesting or remarkable thing – a ball hit into the stands at a professional baseball game.

You might disagree with me, but folks [tag]Marco Scutaro[/tag] hit a grand slam the other day for [tag]the A’s[/tag] against Texas. Scutaro wasn’t even signed by the A’s to be an everyday player (although he pretty much has been the past three years because the A’s infielders have been so damned injury-prone). Marco seems like a nice guy, and he certainly seems like a hard working ball player who takes his job seriously, but I guarantee you that the elite pitchers in the majors do not fear his bat.

What it comes down to is this – forget steroids and conspiracy theories about juiced baseballs – home runs are easier to come by in the current era of baseball for two big reasons:

  1. There are too many teams and too many jobs for starting and relief pitchers.
  2. [tag]Major League Baseball[/tag] markets the long ball to death.

On the first point, there are 30 big league clubs now. Up until the mid-1960s there were 16 teams. Also, in the current era of baseball the 5 man starting rotation has been adopted by everyone. Let’s not even get into the craziness that is specialized relievers and closers. Back in the 16 team era the standard rotation was 3 guys, with a handful of relievers in the mix, none of them specialists. If you confine yourself to just the starters, in the old days there were jobs for 48 starting pitchers in the big leagues. To get one of those jobs you had to be damned good. Even feeble teams like the old [tag]Washington Senators[/tag] had impressive starters who could outwit most batters for 6 or 7 innings. Today there are more than 3 times that number of starting pitchers. But the available talent pool is really no deeper than it ever was. In fact, considering the declining popularity of professional baseball and the fact that there are no full-ride scholarships for college baseball (compared to hundreds available for football and basketball players), the depth of talent for young pitchers today compared to the number of jobs available in the bigs is darned shallow.

Now, you can argue that the talent pool is deeper today because of all the international players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Japan, but I say bah and feh unto that. Other than guys who have come over from playing in the Japanese majors or the occasional Cuban defector, these guys haven’t really altered the pitching landscape much at all. Sure, you’ve got [tag]Pedro Martinez[/tag] in there, but the vast majority of pitchers from the DR are undisciplined guys who throw smoke until their arms rapidly go to shit. And the Japanese players aren’t available until they reach the halfway point in their pro careers in Japan, so what we typically see is someone like a [tag]Hideo Nomo[/tag] who is brilliant for a year or two and then goes to crap. The main thing the Central and South American pitchers contribute is keeping pitchers’ salaries low, because they’ll sign for much less than a comparable American prospect.

What I’m getting at is that Bonds has broken this record (and his record will not stand long) because it’s an eminently attainable record in today’s game. Sure, performance enhancing drugs have probably allowed Barry to play longer than his body would have naturally, but as my mother says, “steroids don’t hit the baseball for you.” He’s got talent and no one can or should deny that. But up against an equally gifted pitcher every day he’s not going to get anywhere near 756 home runs. After all, [tag]Greg Maddux[/tag] made Barry look foolish this past Friday, sending him to the showers 0 for 4, and Maddux is far from the peak of his talents.

Barry got HR 756 off of [tag]Mike Bacsik[/tag], whose record for [tag]the Nationals[/tag] this season is 5 wins and 6 loses out of 15 starts. His ERA is 4.47 this season and in his six years in and out of the big leagues he’s been bounced between 4 different teams, ending up this season with the Nationals, a club that seems to be fine with putting anyone with a pulse on the mound. Unless the number of teams is dramatically reduced or there is some sort of magical influx of gifted starters that comes into the game not only will Bonds’ new record not stand (something he understands himself and has publicly spoken about) but it will likely be broken in a few short years by [tag]Alex Rodriguez[/tag], who set his own record a few days ago as the fastest to 500 home runs, largely because he too faces more mediocre and downright lousy pitchers than good ones in any given season.

Ultimately I couldn’t watch the post-record spectacle because the whole thing is witless hyperbole. In an era when players can play well beyond the age when they would have been expected to retire a generation ago (for whatever reason) and where the overall talent of the pitchers is questionable at best hitting home runs just is not very special. It’s not a record that makes me want to cheer. So that I saw so little of the event last night doesn’t bother me a bit. In contrast I’m genuinely bummed that I missed seeing [tag]Tom Glavine[/tag] get his 300th win. Glavine’s record is utterly unlike the home run record. If baseball doesn’t change dramatically these home run records are going to fall repeatedly during the next decade or two, while in contrast the same things that make home run records progressively less special make getting to 300 wins as a starting pitcher even more rare and impressive.

With the 5 man rotation and piles of relievers on every bench in MLB it’s going to be pretty much impossible for anyone to make it to 300 wins in a career. Your average starter just does not start enough games (or get deep enough into them to get credited with a win) nowadays. Glavine may be one of the last people to ever reach this plateau.  Baseball fans seem to understand that.  National TV ratings for Glavine’s 300th win were better than ratings for the game in which Bonds tied Aaron’s record.  Baseball fans know the difference between rare and common.  Unfortunately, Major League Baseball does not.

The marketing for Bonds’ record setter was absurd.  Subtract the chase of this record from the Giants’ 2007 season and no one, apart of die-hard Giants fans, has much interest in watching the team play this year.  To say that they stink is a massive understatement.  The other Barry in a Giants uniform (Zito) started last night, and he was feeble.   [tag]Zito[/tag], the Giants’ supposed staff ace has been eminently hittable all season.  If anyone needs proof, the Nationals, one of the least talented clubs in professional baseball, beat him handily last night.

If [tag]Barry Zito[/tag] is representative of current big league pitchers worth $126 million over seven years then honestly, I rest my case.  Zito’s ERA so far this season is worse than the hack Bonds got his 756th homer off of last night, at 5.16.  Zito has 8 wins and 10 losses out of 23 starts this year.  If that’s what’s worth $18 million a year as a starter these days then we can be absolutely certain to see Bonds’ home run record fall and watch him sink into third, fourth and fifth place in the record books before this era is through.

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