By the time you read this, the number of Major League Baseball players with 600 home runs might have swollen to seven, but it'll be an ugly swelling, marked by the telltale needle marks of guilt and suspicion.
They were playing with specially marked baseballs Wednesday night in Cleveland, just in case homer No. 600 by New York Yankees slugger A-Fraud Rodriguez flew into the seats and someone tried to foist a phony relic of a baseball into the bidding for historical artifacts.
You don't think someone would try to deceive A-Fraud, baseball, the game's unseemly memorabilia industry?
Not that they wouldn't deserve it.
Hilariously, A-Fraud told the New York Times this week he's not a big fan of the specially marked balls because pitchers look at it and think "this is the home run ball" and try harder to get him out.
Talk about brass.
Talk about a brain turned entirely inward.
Here's a guy who has admitted using steroids in 2001 (52 homers), '02 (57 homers), and '03 (47 homers) worrying about pitchers who might get an edge through superior concentration -- a natural edge -- and perhaps needlessly delaying his milestone.
There are some conflicted feelings in New York about this non-event. Since the 600 plateau has only six ascendants that include only one Yankee, fella named Ruth, there floats a reflexive pride at its approach. But, with any luck, it will still amount to a collective shrug compared to the swirl of emotion that will accompany Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit next spring. Jeter, like most players, still puts his respect for the game ahead of individual accomplishments, and they are legion. Don't think even the Lords of Cynicism in New York fail to recognize that.
Wednesday, for example, the New York Post's Emily Ngo reported that a Brooklyn cop who was hit by a motorcycle in May and went into a coma recently emerged with two words:
Apparently, Officer Carlos Olmedo did not sustain himself through unconsciousness hoping to see A-Fraud's 600th, but it just happens that he's back among the cognitive in plenty of time because Rodriguez apparently isn't juicing this summer. With 16 homers through the Yankees' first 99 games, Rodriguez was on pace for only 26, which would be his fewest since 1997.
It was the tremendous pressure of his $252 million Rangers contract, he said during his Spring 2009 confession to Pope Gammons I, that drove him to ingest anabolics for those three seasons in Texas. You'll perhaps note with interest then, that, after three subsequent seasons in Gotham when he failed to get the Yankees into the World Series (no pressure there!), his production suddenly jumped wildly again.
He hit 35 homers in 2006, 54 in '07 (with 156 runs batted in for a third MVP award), then 35 again in '08.
Those kinds of spikes aren't damning by themselves, clearly, but they tend to attach themselves to certain suspect individuals, do they not?
If you look at the records of the six 600-homer men -- Hank Aaron, Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa -- you can see that, excluding seasons in which they were not able to play a minimum of 100 games for whatever reason, the fluctuations in homer totals of the players considered above suspicion weren't terribly dramatic. Aaron's lowest total in seasons of 100 games or more was 12, and his highest 47, a difference of 35. Mays' corresponding numbers were 13 and 52, a difference of 39. Bonds' figures are 16 and 73, a difference of 57; Sosa's were 10 and 66, a difference of 56.
Barry seriously, 73?
"I played the game," Aaron told Howard Bryant for his book 'The Last Hero.' "It's just not possible to hit 70 home runs."
For all the good baseball's done to fight off the drug problem in the sport, even to the point where Year of the Pitcher II is all but an official designation, it simply can't embrace A-Fraud at 600. Marked baseballs and elaborate celebrations are not the way to sustain any trust the game might have won back with its ban on amphetamines, its introduction of HGH testing in the minor leagues (the blood test coming to a big league clubhouse near you), and its relatively modest home run totals these past few summers.
Baseball shouldn't be conflicted about this 600. It should be angry, because 600 could swell to 800, and still, you just won't be able to get the smell out of it.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org .