We still love the whammers. Baseball fans still fall for the dudes that powder the ball. When the ball soars into orbit we all gush. We can’t help it. The sluggers own our hearts whether we want to surrender our love or not.
We always want a Babe Ruth in our life and we always want to believe that he is pure, a muscleman whose biceps bulge and that he is clean, not a user of performance-enhancing drugs. This year our man is the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis. In one way or another, true confessions, suspicious witnesses, failed drug tests, or legal proceedings, many of the men who provided the greatest thrills in recent years by slamming home runs with such frequency over such great distances, have been either disgraced or tainted.
Proof has been sketchy, or unavailable, but in some instances the exploits of the 70-homer man, the 60-homer man and the 50-homer man have been exposed or diminished, even if it was exactly what we wanted to see at the time. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez are among the most prolific home-run hitters in history, whether for a single season or career totals. Yet they are no longer innocently beloved, in some cases harshly denounced by fans that formerly worshipped their achievements and the ground they walked upon.
Still, for all of the cynicism generated by the so-called steroids era, the Big Bopper remains an iconic figure in the game. The one-swing basher, perfectly capable of depositing any pitch beyond the outfield wall, and winning a game with a walk-off blast, remains a certain ideal, almost Paul Bunyan-like.
A few years ago the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista erupted onto the scene, seemingly transforming from an average player to a superstar overnight, going from a once-in-a-while home-run hitter into the American League home-run champ. Drugs! everyone cried. He has yet to flunk a drug test, although his pace of home-run hitting has dropped off because of injuries. Bautista was all the rage when he smacked 54 homers in 2010 and followed up with 43 homers in 2011.
Now we have Davis, the new Bautista, hitting home runs at a phenomenal rate when no one else can keep up. Inevitably, Davis, who has never approached the star-like numbers he is putting up this season, was asked if he took performance-enhancing drugs. Of course he denied it. That’s the answer we want to hear. We all want to believe that Chris Davis is the genuine article. We want to believe that a new power man has appeared on the scene to fill the role of king of swat.
Davis’ final 2012 totals were 33 homers and 85 runs batted in with a .270 average. Through this weekend this season Davis has 33 homers, 85 RBIs, and is batting .320. The fans just made him a first-time All-Star and he collected nearly 8.3 million votes.
The long ball still thrills us. The long ball makes us swoon. We want a premier slugger to emerge from the pack and become the new Babe Ruth. Without a clear-cut home-run king the game seems incomplete. Leading the league with 35 homers just doesn’t do much for us. Someone must be the big gun and we aren’t all that picky about who it is, as long as there is someone we can point to and marvel at his strength and his ability to connect with those 94-mph fastballs and send them downtown.
We crave the mythic slugger, but we also want him to be the real deal. Nothing would make baseball fans happier than to see another 60-homer guy lead a league, but they also don’t want to ever find out he cheated. In other aspects of life that is called having your cake and eating it, too. But the baseball fan wants it all. He is hoping that Chris Davis is the one who will return us to a fresh long-ball era and do it without breaking rules.
The baseball fan does not ask for much. Only that one man possess the strength of Hercules, but also be a knight of the roundtable.