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Just The Sports: Seriously, Ruth Isn't A God

Just The Sports

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Seriously, Ruth Isn't A God

The closer Barry Bonds comes to eclipsing Babe Ruth's 714 home runs-second to Hank Aaron's 755-the further away sports writers seem to be getting from thoughtful, accurate statements. Instead, their articles demonstrate that they are buying in wholeheartedly to the mystique surrounding Babe Ruth. To do so is a mistake of epic proportions and undermines all credibility they may have possessed. Questions should be raised about sports journalists who expect integrity from the athletes they cover, but themselves possess none.

Another common thread among sports writers whose favorite hobby has become praising Ruth-besides being basically retarded-is that none saw Ruth live or even had one conversation with him. All of these insights of theirs has been gleaned off the favorable stories of Ruth which have been passed down from generation to generation. Ruth certainly benefited from the time he played professional baseball. When he played, the media was much less intrusive because they really had no choice so we do not know all about the players who played. Nowadays, every unsavory story involving a professional athlete becomes a national story within minutes. Perhaps that is the true reason everyone loves Ruth now.

The latest sports writer to leave his credibility at the door is Jay Mariotti.

The producer had me sign a waiver in case Barry Bonds feels like suing, then asked me to look into the camera lens and try not to squint. He was from "Bonds on Bonds,'' the TV show that attempts to massage the irreparable image of a pariah, and he asked a question Thursday that wasn't as strange as it sounded.

"Why,'' the man wondered, "are you here?''

To cover Babe Ruth, I told him.

Then you should probably just go back home because Ruth is dead.

This joyless, steroids-darkened, agonizingly prolonged exercise isn't about Bonds, just so you know. What it's about is a glittering number in Americana -- 714 -- and the everlasting icon who owns it.

Seven hundred fourteen homers is not even the career home run record. Seven hundred fifty-five is.

This is about the most popular athlete our land has known, a legend whose name still lives in the 21st century, and how he's about to fall into third place on the all-time power list because an aloof and widely loathed mope who used the cream and the clear -- unknowingly, of course -- has stuck around long enough to tailgate Ruth.

Babe Ruth is not the most popular athlete our land has ever known. Michael Jordan is immensely more popular. Ruth played in an era where there were two ways the majority of people could follow a baseball game: going to see it live or listening to it on the radio. No longer is that the case with the advent of television and twenty-four-hour-a-day sports networks, making even fringe professional athletes household names across the country.

Of course, it is hard for Babe Ruth to be the most popular athlete when baseball is not even the most popular sport now. Baseball is no longer the nation's pasttime as some diehards would have you believe. American-born major leaguers are becoming more and more scarce as the influx of players from real baseball countries increases. Therefore, it will be hard to make any claim of a baseball player having any sort of supreme popularity.

Another idea which must be considered is whether or not Barry Bonds is as popular as Ruth. Popularity is a measure of how many non-fans, or fringe fans, know a person's name. A common misconception is that popularity is linked to how many people like a particular actor or athlete or supermodel. That is just not true. Whether or not a person's popularity is positive or negative does not change the fact that the person is popular. Take Tom Cruise, for example. Even though a large percentage of the population detests the actor, there is no denying everyone knows about him, fan or not. The same goes for Barry Bonds. Anyone who knows of Babe Ruth knows of Barry Bonds and vice versa.

In the context of dominating their respective eras, Bonds is a pebble in Ruth's cleats.

Only someone who ignores statistics would make that claim. Bonds is anything but insignificant in comparison to Ruth. Bonds is very near his equal and not far from becoming his superior, and I am not talking just home runs. I am talking about as a hitter and a fielder. Right now, Ruth has an advantage over Bonds because he was also a dominating pitcher for a number of years, but if Bonds can stay healthy, he may very well end up surpassing Ruth in terms of runs created for their respective teams.

There's no symbolism in making history against the Cubs.

Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record against the Cubs. I imagine that was pretty symbolic.


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