By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) On Sunday afternoon, grizzled slugger Jim Thome picked up his bat, turned back the clock, and swung a mighty swing that launched a home run 490 feet into the stands above the right-center field scoreboard at Target Field.
And nobody cared.
Well, not nobody. Thome’s teammates certainly cared, as the home run proved to be the difference maker in Minnesota’s 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals that day.
And the Twins fans in attendance no doubt cared too, as they got a chance to see the 40-year-old Thome hit not only hit the longest home run in baseball this season (toping Prince Fielder’s 486-foot blast against Houston on April 29), but also inch closer to inclusion in the 600 home run club with career dinger No. 596.
But the nation yawned.
And that’s a sad, sad thing.
Earlier this month, America was gripped by Yankees captain Derek Jeter’s pursuit of career hit 3,000. And we should have been. Only 28 men in the history of baseball have reached that elite plateau and, before Jeter, quite remarkably, none of them had worn Yankees pinstripes.
But only seven men – Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa – have reached the level that Thome is almost certain to join some day soon.
And we don’t seem to care.
Back when I was a kid – heck, when I was an adult – there were only three guys in the 600 home run club: Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). I was able to easily write those career home run totals I put in parentheses from memory.
Just like I can tell you how many career homers Frank Robinson (586), Harmon Killebrew (573), Mickey Mantle (536) and Ernie Banks (512) hit without having to look it up. But to tell you how many homers Griffey (630) and Rodriguez (613) have, I had to use Google. And I even had to think a bit to recall Bonds’ (762) and Sosa’s (609) career numbers.
The point I’m trying to make is that home runs used to matter. Really, really matter. Now, they just don’t. And I’m not sure I could write a sadder sentence about sports.
Think about that for a second: Home runs – for eons, the gold standard of all individual sporting feats – have become almost irrelevant. Irrelevant to the point where we don’t even care that a guy like Thome – who’s never once in his career been linked to any performance-enhancing drug investigations or rumors – is closing in on his 600th.
Now, some people argue that if Thome was playing in New York – like Jeter – that his pursuit of 600 would be a bigger deal. But I’m not so sure. After all, a few years from now, when Alex Rodriguez might be closing in on not career home run No. 600, but No. 762 – Bonds’ tainted all-time mark – I have my doubts that the nation will care all that much, even then.
Sure, people will pay attention. But will they really care?
Such is the true long-term impact of steroid use on baseball: Apathy.
Atop its list of the all-time career home run leaders, the website baseballalmanac.com quotes Hank Aaron as having once said, “Seven-hundred and fourteen, seven-hundred and fifteen, I’ve forgotten them already.”
Well, we haven’t, Hank.
But we’re seemingly forgetting about all the rest.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.