They’re a vocal minority, and their voices are amplified by commentators and columnists who are the baseball equivalent of creationists. The reason that all forms of cheating except using performance-enhancers are OK is because it’s written in some sacred book somewhere. The book says that if a player takes something that helps him hit more home runs, he’s cheating. If he doesn’t hit more home runs, it doesn’t matter what he does.
Most fans don’t make such fine distinctions. They also don’t have their home pages set to baseball-reference.com and don’t give a rat’s patoot about the sacred numbers that give meaning to the lives of true believers everywhere.
I understand where the true believers are coming from, and it’s kind of touching that people can be so obsessive about it all. Baseball, like physics, is numbers. There’s nothing in the game that hasn’t been broken down by the wonks and given mystical meaning.
I have to admit, it’s pretty cool, and I’ve bought Bill James’ books and spent more time wandering around baseball-reference.com than is probably healthy. But what leaps out at me in baseball’s immutable numbers is that they are always changing. You want unfair? How about 1930, when the National League hit better than .300 and the Giants as a team hit .319? You don’t think that skewed the numbers?
The great majority of fans understand that in their guts. They’re sports fans, and baseball is the sport they follow in the summer. They’re used to the collective yawn that greets steroid abusers in the NFL. Their interest in numbers is confined to how their fantasy teams are performing, and if one of their guys hits 89 home runs, they’re not going to complain about it.
In their view, Manny had a slip-up. He got caught. He paid for it. Now he’s back, and ain’t that grand?
They love Manny because he’s a character who does goofy things and has crazy hair and hits the ball like few others ever have. Guys like him are the reason we buy tickets.
The fans got over it a long time ago. It’s getting to be time for those of us in the press box to do the same.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.