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Volume 70, Issue 122, Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Sports

Fans clearly interested in cheaters

Numbers from ticket sales could parallel seasons 
that saw raw power break records

Off the Wall

Tom Carpenter

America loves rippling muscles and demonstrations of raw power, which explains the snorts, chuckles, guffaws and elbows in the ribs whenever Major League Baseball's steroid policy gets mentioned or Congress passes a law to protect the Speaker of the House. 

Fans, like voters, generally get what they deserve. Sometimes, as in the case of the Steroid Bandits, they get it in spades. 

In 2001, Barry Bonds blasted 73 home runs in 476 at bats. Opposing pitchers walked Bonds a major-league record 177 times that season, and here's why: Factor in another 177 at bats and Bonds cranks out 95 home runs in 2001. 

Ninety-five home runs in one season: The hotline from Bud Selig's office must have been smoking that year, frantic about Bonds' obvious cheating and desperately trying to figure out a way to stop the steroid-enhanced slugger. Opposing managers figured that one out quickly, ergo 177 walks. 

But many baseball fans loved Bonds' rampage through the record book and his brutal assault on Hank Aaron's record 755 home runs. The 30 major league teams drew 73,022,969 fans into the seats in 2004. 

That's 8.1 percent higher than last year's total of 67,568,397 and 3.8 percent higher than the previous record of 72,748,970 established in 2001 when Bonds bludgeoned his way through the record book, smashing 73 home runs and obliterating McGwire's travesty of a record 70 belted in 1998. 

More fans passed through the turnstiles in 2004 than the number of citizens who voted for President Bush in the past election, a baffling 62,040,606. 

At the league average ticket price of $19.83 that comes out to about $1.46 billion a year. That's a steroid-induced economic muscle, and the figure doesn't include income derived from parking, concession stands and souvenirs.

Floating in the flotsam of the scandal, Selig and the baseball owners face a double-barreled conundrum: How does baseball categorize for posterity the outrageous home run totals, and how can the owners keep the fans pouring through the turnstiles?

Joe Citizen listened while the media doted over the unprecedented power of the Baby Hueys, and even casual fans became enraptured by the most awesome display of fire power since Bikini Atoll, site of the world's biggest hydrogen bomb explosion, went up in a mushroom cloud in 1954. 

But Aaron and Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson recognize a skunk when they smell it, and both men made it clear that they resent the charlatan methods the Steroid Bandits employed to rob the glory from those who played fair.

Those who shill Major League Baseball, the media and the owners, harp at Selig like Oliver Hardy whined to Stan Laurel, "This is another fine mess you've gotten us into." 

How ludicrous did the steroid factor become in professional baseball? How big a mess do Selig and the owners have to clean up?

Sammy Sosa hit more than 60 home runs three times and failed to win a home run title. Sosa cranked 66 in '98, McGwire smashed 70; Sosa slammed 63 homers in '99, McGwire blasted 65; Sosa hammered 64 in '01, Bonds exploded for 73 and could have had 95 if the pitchers weren't as gutless as the owners and commissioner.
 

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