As I watched the Homerun Derby-- a spectacle that has somewhat slipped into a delirium complete with Pitbull pelvic thrusts and shameless bulls eye advertisements strewn through the cheap seats—I couldn’t help but feel the product has lost its wonderment. Every sport has an iconic offensive play; in football there’s a deep touchdown pass, basketball has the slam-dunk, and the breakaway deke in hockey, but none of them quite have the magic of a homerun. It’s like apple pie, a slice of Americana captured in one fluid display of strength, patience, and parabolic physics.
The home run has been immortalized in literature and cinema for good reason-- thousands of people staring in awe as a small round ball sails into the heavens, the moment has a mystique that authors couldn’t possibly contrive from any other walk of life. We all know that chicks dig the long ball.
That said the scars of the steroid era still remain. After Chris Davis tied the midseason record for homeruns at 37, according to an ESPN poll only 31 percent of people found that to be the most impressive moment before the all-star break. This mild enthusiasm from the public at large is no doubt the product of PED abuse. Like all sluggers in the modern era, Davis’ power surge has been shrewdly embraced and quietly doubted in some circles. When a sarcastic tweet was sent to Chris Davis asking him if he was on steroids, Davis was quick to respond with a one-word denial. While it was a bit of a non-story, it did get people talking about what everyone was already thinking.
After watching the homerun derby for more than an hour, it was hard not to notice how stale of an institution it’s become. Like a tradition that hardly matters to anyone but remains an annual event because it’s something we’ve always done-- and if we stop we fear the corn might not grow. It’s hard to compartmentalize the sullied image of the homerun and yet celebrate it once a year—no other sport has this sort of contrasting predicament.
It’s not like every time LeBron James dunks we whisper amongst ourselves, “did you see that elevation… steroids.” But as I watch Yoenis Cespedes crank out one moonshot after the other I can’t help but imagine he’s incriminating himself in the court of public opinion. It’s not fair, but as Lance Armstrong so admittedly claimed it’s impossible to win the Tour de France seven times without doping, I wonder if it’s possible to launch 17 consecutive baseballs into the stratosphere without chemical enhancement. I know it’s not right of me to speculate, but that’s the problem with the homerun it’s forever handcuffed by that connotation.
Last week former Braves closer John Rocker once again exhibited his verbal incontinence and claimed people would enjoy baseball more if all the players were on steroids again. Rocker of course ignores the moral reprehensible nature of drug abuse, in favor of pure entertainment. I would certainly never agree with his claims nor ever condone them, but if we did know that all the players were on steroids—and that somehow leveled the field—at least there would no longer be the lurking doubt behind every homerun and we could enjoy it for what it is. It’s hardly the proper remedy, but personally I don’t know how you make homeruns feel real again.