I'll Take a Hit: Why Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter Are Heroes of the Steroid Era
Chicks dig the long ball, right?
That was the underlying message that prefaced the story of baseball in the past decade or two. It suggested that nothing is more impressive than being able to knock a ball out of the park, even if it’s Yellowstone.
Lift more weights. Build more muscle. Eat, drink, and inject anything that has the ability to make your forearms bigger than your thighs. Then, like Casey, get your at-bat and strike out. Strike out again. Strike out 200-plus times every season as long the ball leaves the yard every so often.
The fans will forgive the strikeouts, while SportsCenter will show the game-winning dinger a thousand times.
It's all about the long ball—or is it?
When the story of baseball in the Steroid Era is told, it will be with a heavy emphasis on two players who relied purely on consistent contact, good speed, great defense, and a rigorous work ethic that kept them in baseball shape, not the ability to bench press a box car.
One of them, a shortstop, has averaged just 15 home runs a year—a pathetic display of power compared to his diamond buddy who admitted to using steroids. That corner infielder was shamed, jeered, and booed by the fans that cheer his home runs, yet those same fans never had a reason to heckle the All-Star Yankee Captain with less power.
Derek Jeter plays the game the right way. Never would he stoop to the levels of Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez to gain the notoriety that comes with the power of the big shot. Hard work, leadership, and clutch hitting are more important to him than cranking one out 40 times a year.
Jeter is now the all-time hits leader for the storied Yankees franchise—more hits than Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and any of the other greats to ever don the pinstripes. Over 100 years of accomplishments by many of the best to ever play the game, and Jeter has more hits as a Yankee.
The other superstar of the last decade is even less of a power hitter, averaging just nine homers per year. However, in 2004 he broke the 84-year-old single season hit record—a feat never achieved by consistent hitting stars like Tony Gwynn, DiMaggio, Ted Williams, or Wade Boggs.
Sorry, Mr. George Sisler, 257 hits is not a benchmark any longer, as 262 hits is the new apex.
Last week, Ichiro Suzuki also broke the 108-year-old record of consecutive seasons with at least 200 base hits. Move over, Wee Willie Keeler. Ichiro now has nine straight 200 hit seasons and is very likely to continue the streak for a few more years barring injury.
Ichiro and Jeter have eclipsed milestones that have stood the test of time—longer than the home run record that everyone coveted during the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa performance-enhancing drug competition of the '90s.
Ichiro claims he could hit a lot more homers, but why should he? He knows that is not his job. He's a lead-off hitter who just needs to get on base, something which he has done extremely well, batting at a career .332 clip, becoming the second fastest ever to reach 2,000 hits.
Derek Jeter has been very consistent with a .317 lifetime average and is the clear leader of the Yankees clubhouse. He leads by example with the defensive gem that saves the game or the clutch hit that keeps an inning alive.
The home run record that had been broken once prior to and also once since McGwire’s memorable season appears to have a stranglehold on the attention of the average baseball fan more than any other record, even if it has become far less of an accomplishment.
Home runs are for those egomaniacs who get paid truckloads of money while batting .240. However, when the story of baseball at the turn of the century is told, will it include more than a mere mention of the likes of Adam Dunn, Jim Thome, and Vlad Guerrero?
Will the admitted use of steroids and PEDs by A-Rod, Giambi, Jose Canseco, and Ken Caminiti diminish all the efforts of every power hitter during the last two decades?
Will the alleged use of the same drugs by Barry Bonds, Big Papi, Manny Ramirez, Sosa, and McGwire cast a shadow on the seemingly clean accomplishments of the power-hitting superstars like Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Albert Pujols?
Will the actions of Roger Clemens and other pitchers who allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs cause a debate on whether any of the pitchers in the 1990's and 2000's could actually have been clean? Maybe Bronson Arroyo isn’t the only one who thinks his name may be linked to steroids.
Although any power hitter of this Steroid Era may have an uphill battle to get into the Hall of Fame, any player allegedly or admittedly cheating the game is almost certainly never going to be elected.
Sometimes, all the power in the world gives a player no power at all.
One thing is for sure: Ichiro and Jeter will be in Cooperstown shortly after they hang up the cleats for the last time.
They will be joined by pitchers like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera. They will certainly be joined by a few hitters like Griffey Jr., Jones, and Pujols.
However, when the story of baseball is told during the Steroid Era, the two heroes standing at the end of the tale will be Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki.
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