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Counting The Omer … And The Homers

      While we’re counting the Omer, we’re also counting homers.

 

      Barry Bonds is closing in on Hank Aaron’s all-time career home run mark of 755. Bonds should hit his 755th well before we hit Elul. But when Bonds tops Aaron and becomes the all-time home run king, will that make him the greatest home run hitter of all time?

 

      No way – and here’s why, Babe Ruth retired in 1935 with 714 career home runs in 8,399 at-bats. It took Bonds 9,234 at-bats to tie Ruth. Meaning, Ruth homered every 11.76 times at bat while Bonds did it every 12.93 times. Aaron needed 11,291 at-bats to reach the 755 career mark (every 15.81 at-bats).

 

      Aaron was a steady player who never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. He hit 40 or more homers eight times in a 23-year career. Outside of the 73 homers he hit in 2001, Bonds has never hit more than 49 in a season. There were plenty of allegations concerning Bonds and steroids that season, but to date nothing has been proven. Bonds was and is a great player, but Ruth was greater.

 

      The Babe did it the old-fashioned way. He used hot dogs and washed it down with beer and soda pop. Ruth hit 54 homers twice, 59 once and his famous high of 60 in 1927. Don’t forget, Ruth was also a great pitcher before becoming an outfielder. Ruth won more than 20 games twice on his way to a career 94-46 record with an ERA of just 2.28.

 

      Bonds has played his entire career in the modern era of 162-game seasons. Ruth’s seasons consisted of 154 games while Aaron played about a third of his career under the 154 game schedule and the rest under the 162-game slate. Bonds and Aaron also had the advantage of hitting a livelier ball that travels farther due to its tightly-wound cork center.

 

      Ruth was far ahead in career batting average, retiring with a .342 mark. Aaron had a .305 career average and Bonds is just shy of .300 at his writing.

 

      *     *     *

 

      Alex Rodriguez, who took a .306 lifetime average into this season, should reach 500 career home runs before July’s All-Star Game in San Francisco. A-Rod, who’ll be 32 on July 27, will become the youngest player ever to reach the 500-homer mark.

 

      Rodriguez had homered once every 14.36 at-bats coming into this season – better than Aaron but not as good as Bonds and Ruth. He is, of course, homering more often this season. Some media mavens speculate that the Yankees third baseman, who can opt out of his contract after the season, will stick it to the fans and media who gave him a hard time last season by leaving the Yanks.

 

      Some predict his destination is Chicago because of his admiration for Cubs manager Lou Piniella, stemming from their days in Seattle. “No,” says A-Rod’s former Yankee teammate Gary Sheffield. “Alex loves to perform on the New York stage and his wife loves it in New York also.”

 

      There will, however, be a new owner of the Cubs after the season and if he’s smart he’ll offer A-Rod a piece of the franchise and his old shortstop position. The cozy Wrigley Field power alleys will translate to many more home runs than he’d hit in New York. One thing’s for sure: A-Rod, who is currently baseball’s highest-paid player, will trump his old figure and soar to new financial heights. Maybe he’ll buy the Cubs.

 

*     *     *

 

      Red Sox Nation is still talking about the four consecutive home runs by BoSox batters off Yankee pitcher Chase Wright. A national audience via ESPN for the Sunday night game saw homers by Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek chase Wright, a rookie making only his second big league start this season.

 

      As Varitek circled the bases, ESPN viewers were told that the only prior big league pitcher to allow four consecutive home runs was Paul Foytack of the Los Angeles Angels on July 31, 1963. Foytack spent most of his career with the Tigers and returned to the Detroit area to become an industrial rubber and plastics salesman. He picked up some extra dollars (and dropped some extra pounds) by pitching batting practice for years prior to Tigers home games.

 

      Now 76, Foytack was discovered by the national media after Wright surrendered the four consecutive homers. Foytack felt bad for Wright and sent the rookie a “keep your chin up” type of letter. “After all,” Foytack said, “I was in the last year of my career when I gave up the four homers in a row. Wright is just starting out.”

 

      *     *     *

 

      To me, David Halberstam was the king of journalism. An amazing talent who took on several different subjects in more than 20 books and scored with them all. David was only 30 when he earned a Pulitzer Prize. I’ll remember him as a blazer-wearing, bow-tie clad intellectual who could hear The William Tell Overture and still think of The Lone Ranger.


      My favorite Halberstam book is Summer of ’49, about the great Red Sox-Yankees pennant race and rivalry that season. I wonder if Halberstam got to see the nationally televised historic Red Sox-Yankees four-consecutive-homer game the night before he was killed in a car crash.

 

*     *     *

 

      Love the 6:13 p.m. starting time for many midweek night games in the Israel Baseball League. Friday games are at ten in the morning or at noon. There are no Shabbos or motzei Shabbos games. None of the three fields the six teams are using have lights. Let’s hope more fields, with light towers and greater seating capacity, will be built.

 

*     *     *

 

      To those who took issue (Letters to the Editor, April 27) with my picking the Cubs to make the World Series: My prediction read, “if Mark Prior and Kerry Wood stay off the disabled list” And, as you know, after my predictions came out, Prior went on the disabled list and had season-ending surgery.

 

      So of course that changes the picture. Milwaukee’s my choice now to go to the postseason from the National League Central. But the Brewers aren’t quite good enough to overtake the Mets and advance to the World Series.

 

      To those who think I downgraded the National League, all I can say is the American League creamed the NL last year in interleague play. We’ll see what transpires this season. In the meantime, keep those opinions coming.

 

      Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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