If you haven’t heard, Albert Pujols hit his 500th career home run last night in the nation’s capitol. It is a magnificent feat that has only been accomplished by 25 other players in baseball’s history. Yet where was the excitement leading up to Pujols reaching this milestone? Where was the celebration from baseball fans following such an admirable accomplishment?
It didn’t exist; and sadly that is because reaching 500 home runs no longer impresses us.
After Mark McGwire hit his 499th career home run, the nation stopped what it was doing every time he was up to bat in anticipation of watching that magical number 500 escape the field. On Aug. 5, 1999, the country rejoiced as fervently for this home run as they did the year before when he broke Roger Maris‘ single season record. You couldn’t read a newspaper or watch a news program without seeing coverage of McGwire.
Many others followed McGwire into the 500 Club, but with each member came less excitement and publicity: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield and Pujols.
Take a look at some of the names on that list. Nearly 70 percent of them are players suspected of cheating during Major League Baseball’s “Steroid Era”. In the minds of many fans, that association taints such an accomplishment.
Hitting 500 home runs went from being a feat not often accomplished to just another statistic in the minds of fans. During the “Steroid Era”, people became numb to the long ball due in large part to the prevalence of its occurrence in the sport. The longer the 500 Club list became, the more its meaning devalued.
Here are the entries into the 500 Club every 20 years:
1914-1934 (1 entry): Babe Ruth (1929)
1934-1954 (2): Jimmie Foxx (’40), Mel Ott (’45)
1954-1974 (8): Harmon Killebrew (’71), Frank Robinson (’71), Ernie Banks (’70), Hank Aaron (’68), Mickey Mantle (’67), Eddie Matthews (’67), Willie Mays (’65), Ted Williams (’60)
1974-1994 (3): Willie McCovey (’78), Reggie Jackson (’84), Mike Schmidt (’87)
1994-2014 (12): Eddie Murray (’96),Mark McGwire (’99), Barry Bonds (’01), Sammy Sosa (’03), Rafael Palmeiro (’03), Ken Griffey, Jr. (’04), Frank Thomas (’07), Jim Thome (’07), Alex Rodriguez (’07) Manny Ramirez (’08), Gary Sheffield (’09), Albert Pujols (’14).
Due to over-saturation and scandal, what was once considered one of the greatest feats in baseball is now no longer even considered an accomplishment that secures a player’s spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. To baseball fans in 2014, 500 home runs is just another stepping stone like each of the century milestones that came before.
Such a devaluing is unfortunate for the game and for the players who aren’t suspected of participating in the “Steroid Era”. This is even more evident watching the media coverage and listening to talk around the water cooler the morning after Pujols’ historic night.
We should be impressed. After all, only 26 people in the history of this monumental game have ever accomplished such a feat. Yet, unfortunately, the standards in which we hold baseball have desensitized us to the game we love.