Most of the commentary surrounding Randy Johnson’s 300th victory last week centered on the very real possibility that he might be the last guy for awhile to top that magic number, but I like another angle.
I’m more fascinated by the link – conceivably unrelated – between Johnson’s late-career dominance and the steroid era that seemingly has distorted home run statistics for the better part of a decade. I mention that because at just about the same time that Randy was nailing down No. 300, Sammy Sosa was announcing that he was officially retired from Major League Baseball.
I figure that’s kinda like a reverse of the Brett Favre Retirement Plan, i.e. announcing that you’re no longer playing several years after you’ve stopped playing. Anyway, Sammy made it official and took note to point out his ascension to Cooperstown should follow in the the conventional fashion. Loosely translated: Freedom’s on the march, or if I say something often enough, perhaps all concerned will start to believe it.
It could just be coincidence, but Johnson’s leap from being merely a dominant, scary pitcher to the ranks of the all-time greats neatly matched the home run sodden years of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even if it is, he was good enough over that span to guarantee Cooperstown, and the inclusion of the magic No. 300 was simply icing on the cake. He was headed for a plaque even if he had ended up with just 299 wins.
But for Sammy it’s going to be even more interesting when the vote comes around. As he is fully warranted in pointing out, he’s never been officially linked to PEDs, but the caveat of “official” has taken an awful beating with the revelations of the past five years.
Ultimately, Sosa will end up being a great test of the conventional wisdom that simply being linked in any fashion to the steroids mess – or merely having smacked a big pile of home runs during the 1994-2003 span – can be enough to derail a trip to Cooperstown. Actually, it’s more than conventional wisdom: Mark McGwire, whose only real sin was allowing himself to be hornswoggled into self-incrimination by a McCarthy-like Congressional subcommittee, has managed less than 25 percent of the BBWAA votes in his first three years on the ballot.
Now there’s some irony: being linked to McGwire and that once-glorious summer could be the roadblock to immortality rather than the supercharged vehicle that it once appeared to be.