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After 12 games, 13 days, and 46 at-bats of confused, muted, pensive anticipation, Alex Rodriguez finally blasted his 600th home run on a muggy afternoon off Shaun Marcum of the Toronto Blue Jays. Somehow, it seems fitting that A-Rod's "milestone" came not in primetime, or on a weekend, or on national television, but at 1:25 pm on a nondescript Wednesday, the virtual nadir of the weekly news cycle.
Sports media outlets, in their infinite wisdom, will breathlessly point out that the home run came three years to the day after the Yankees' third baseman socked No. 500. ESPN will call up its graphics on the seven men who have hit 600, dusting off charts that sat idle for nearly two weeks. And given sportswriters' need to write something about this, there will be columns, blogs and podcasts on wondering why no one cares about such a significant statistical accomplishment.
In reality, the answer is very straightforward. The sports world is indifferent to A-Rod's 600th home run because numerical benchmarks in baseball have been rendered virtually meaningless by the steroid era. And A-Rod is as much to blame for that as anyone.
More than any other sport, baseball has been a game of numbers. Because of its 134-year history (including more than a century of virtually the same format), baseball has a larger wealth of statistics to draw from than the NFL, NBA, or any other league. And fans loved to compare numbers, debating whether Hack Wilson's monster 1930 season (56 homers, a record 191 RBIs) was greater than any of Babe Ruth's years or if Ted Williams' remarkable .553 on-base percentage in 1941 was an unassailable record.