For about five years, drug tests and blazing young arms took it away.
But the home run is back this season in Major League Baseball. And it may even be back to stay.
From 1998 to 2009, Major League teams combined to hit at least 4,800 home runs every season. Since 2009, MLB teams have reached or surpassed the 4,800 plateau just once, in 2012.
In 2015, with about two months left in the regular season, Major League players are on-track to hit more than 4,800 for just the second time in six years.
The MLB’s youth movement also kicked into overdrive in 2015. The 2015 All-Star Game featured more players under 25 than any in history.
These simultaneous movements, toward power and youth, raise an interesting debate that baseball avoided in recent years because pitchers dominated: How should we approach home run records in the future?
The MLB has two options. One, Commissioner Rob Manfred can expunge steroid-fueled records from the book. Two, he can take away the asterisks and start treating the steroid-era like American history teachers treat The Great Depression: Not our finest hour, but perhaps our most notable.
The first option is silly, and I’ll explain why. But the second one could, in a generation or so, create the greatest, most redemptive story in baseball history.
Option A: Expunge the records
Back to 61 and 755. It’s the purest, cleanest, most punitive option for those awful, treasonous, anti-Americans who dirtied our pastime forever.
But Manfred is no Joseph Stalin. He knows millions of fans witnessed the 1990s and early 2000s. Expunging those records would not expunge people’s memories of baseballs flying into McCovey Cove or over Busch Stadium’s walls.
Its stupid when the NCAA vacates championships and Heisman Trophy winners. A professional league cannot afford to lose credibility in such an embarrassing way.
Option B: Remove the asterisks
There really is no other option.
Babe Ruth’s pursuit of home run records made baseball popular in the 1920s.
MLB officials can speed up the game and make pitchers the faces of the sport. But fans flock to boppers. A World Series pitting Mike Trout versus Bryce Harper would garner the highest ratings since the 2009 classic, which featured two huge markets, Philadelphia and New York.
Home run records are off the radar because no one has threatened the single-season or career record since Bonds set both. But eventually, baseball will need them again. A romantic summer like 1927 or 1961 or 1998 will remind fans why the sport is great.
Imagine this scenario: 10, 20, maybe 30 years down the line, on nothing but exercise and some lean Eastern diet, the latest Harper or Trout hits 15 in April, 10 in May, and 12 in June. By July, the new face of baseball/sports can smell the once fabled record.
His pursuit from July on would be the baseball story of the century: clean bomber assaults the record set by the man who ruined it for everybody. The clean bomber would not just be setting baseball’s most hallowed record, he would be saving it, making it matter again.
But that scenario is only possible if fans, writers, and the MLB acknowledge that we dropped the ball during the steroid era. We enjoyed the home runs so much that we suspended our disbelief.
It happened, so we need to accept the accomplishments and move on. Sure, don’t vote Bonds or any other user into the Hall of Fame. But give Bonds the records, so a do-gooder can make them cool again.