Taking My Hacks

The Chase Continues

Joe Orlando

As Barry Bonds continues his march towards Hank Aaron's all-time home run mark of 755, I cannot help but wonder if this so-called chase for immortality is all for naught. The number is well within reach, despite Barry's injuries, but credibility in the eyes of collectors and fans may not be.

This controversy, unlike those involving other stars like Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, has to do with artificially enhancing one's performance on the field. This, in turn, calls into question the validity of the numbers, putting aside the moral or ethical questions.

There's no doubt that only time will tell if Bonds will be given the respect that those who came before him earned. When it comes to numbers, Bonds is in a league of his own. There's no question about it. The issue is whether or not those numbers really mean anything in the aftermath of the steroid controversy.

Baseball is the one sport, more than all the other sports combined, that relies upon numbers to set standards for greatness and those standards provide some basis for player-to-player comparison. While it is virtually impossible to compare players from different generations, it's the numbers that give fans a starting point.

Maybe, just maybe, one result of the steroid controversy will be the reevaluation of the importance of numbers in evaluating a player's importance, both from a historical and collectible perspective. Too often, if a player doesn't neatly fit into a particular category, collectors dismiss them from their personal checklist.

For example, does it really matter that Lou Gehrig never reached 3,000 hits or 500 home runs? Of course not, he would have reached both numbers with ease had it not been for his tragic illness. Does it really matter that Rogers Hornsby never reached 3,000 hits? No, he had the second highest batting average of all-time at .358 and just fell short of the 3,000 hit mark.

Does it really matter that Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Bob Feller never reached 300 wins? No. Does that make Don Sutton or Phil Niekro better pitchers because they did? No. In fact, milestones often help give marginal players (from a Hall of Fame perspective) more credibility than they otherwise would have earned. It's a stamp of approval of sorts that some players need to make them appealing to the masses in our hobby.

That being said, some collectors will eliminate great names from their collection because the player does not fit neatly into a particular category. A collector who is trying to build a representative collection of the greatest hitters of all-time may limit themselves to only those batsmen who have reached 3,000 hits. Would it really make sense to own a signed ball, game-used bat or card of Robin Yount but not one of Rogers Hornsby if that is what you are trying to do?

I am asking all of these questions merely to point out that we sometimes limit ourselves too much based on an arbitrary "numbers" standard. As collectors, we do need structure to keep us from roaming too wide, resulting in a serious lack of collecting direction but it's just best to remember that while numbers are great, they have to be taken in context. Otherwise, those numbers will provide a collecting obstacle instead of the starting point you were looking for.

Maybe this chase will remind hobbyists to keep their options open when it comes to collecting. It's not always about the numbers.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief