The strange ambivalence towards MLB’s home run blitz
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Players are making the ball out of the park at a record setting pace in 2017, yet their achievements are not receiving the attention some would have expected
Baseball is in the midst of a power detonation the likes of which historically has filled stadiums, driven ratings and made a new crop of home run-bashing American sports legends, yet the reaction this time around has been a little more ambivalent.
Yankees rightfielder Roger Maris led the original power detonation in 1961 when he slugged a then-record 61 home runs to pass Babe Ruths long-time single season mark. There were 2,717 home runs in baseball that season, which defined an all-time MLB mark for 0.95 home runs per game. There was some discussion at the time about whether the ball had been juiced that is, manufactured in order to travelling further. But if baseballs were jumping more in 1961 it was not because the ball had made quite the transformation it had undergone in 1911. Back then a new cork-centered ball, as opposed to the rubber core ball of the dead ball epoch, insured scoring( and ticket marketings) skyrocket. And so the sudden increase in home runs in 1961 was chiefly pinned on the American League expanding by two teams and the subsequent watering down of the pitching talent.
Juice of other kinds fueled baseballs next power surge a decade later. With interest in baseball lagging following the work stoppage of 1994 and 1995, a home run chase by Sammy Sosa and McGwire by then remade into the size and shape of an NFL defensive end filled stadia and constructed baseball the talk of the summer of 1998. Coverage of McGwires push to a new record of 70 home runs, four better than Sosas final total, dwarfed any other athletics news including the possible destinations of NBA free agents.( Dell Curry, Stephs father, was a Hornets free agent entering the 1998 -9 9 lockout season !)
The 1998 season averaged 1.04 home runs per game, short of the 1987 record of 1.06, but this time it was no blip. The 11 years between 1996 and 2006 accounted for what were then 10 of the top 11 home run years of all-time, with the 2000 season resulting the way behind a whopping 1.17 homers per game. A season afterward brought Barry Bonds remarkable campaign of 73 home runs to break McGwires record. No one pinned the dramatic and sustained increase in home runs to juiced balls during this time. The reason was clear( and cream, if youd like ): this was baseballs steroids epoch and the narcotics were flowing just as many squads debuted parks with smaller outfield dimensions. Even middle infielders were expected to make 20 or more a year in the sports anabolic age.
Then the public decided it was against chemically-enhanced sluggers, baseball instituted tougher testing and penalties for those caught utilizing PEDs and home runs rapidly dipped back closer to around an average of one per game, well off the rate of the steroid epoch. Which brings us to the power explosion of 2017.