Normally, I wouldn't interrupt my College Football Saturday for any other sports, but Ryan Howard's 55th and 56th home runs have got me energized, to say the least.
This has become (or will quickly become, with each new HR) the biggest storyline in MLB this season. More than the Wild Card races. More than the Marlins' overachievement. Way more than the Red Sox missing the playoffs.
And to think, everyone was thinking that Bonds' "Chasing Aaron" would be the storyline of the year. (At least I did.)
No: It's Howard's "Chasing Maris." Because here's where it gets interesting: If/when Howard tops 61 home runs, there is a VERY intriguing debate -- over the soul of baseball, if you think about it:
Is Howard the REAL single-season home run champ?
Consider his competition:
Bonds? You all know why that's suspicious.
McGwire or Sosa? They went from "saving" baseball in 1998 to ruining it (in McGwire's case) and evaporating from it (in Sosa's). Both are totally tainted by the 'roid era.
Ahh, but Howard is pure. Or seems pure. The big boy certainly doesn't look like he NEEDS steroids, and I suggested earlier this week that he volunteer to take every test ever invented -- and even volunteer to take new experimental tests that are totally unsanctioned.
If only to prove without doubt that he is clean, positioning him in a debate with the other guys where they can't touch him. Think McGwire is willing to swear to being clean? We know his answer. Sosa? Please. Bonds? No way.
Obviously, this is a very messy issue: I'm of the mind that we're stuck with the stats we've got -- you can't dismiss Bonds or Mac or Sosa and trigger an impossible slippery slope of rewriting history and making judgments that no one is equipped to make. Hell, why pick on those three? Everyone was doing it.
In the end, I think it's up to the individual fans to decide how they judge any stat -- particularly stats from the Steroids Era. If you want to dismiss Bonds or Mac, that's your right as a fan.
If you want to embrace Ryan Howard as the TRUE Home Run Champ, that's your right as a fan.
I just wanted to flag that you'll be hearing a LOT of commentary from baseball experts, ex-players, bloggers, the sports media, whoever over the next three weeks about whether Ryan Howard should be considered more "legitimate" than Bonds, Mac or Sosa, even though they may technically end the season with more home runs.
Excuse me for kind of thinking this through as I write the post. But it looks like the debate centers around the theme of "Legitimacy."
And right now, Ryan Howard has it. Oh, does he have it.