Irony, Tragedy in Photograph of Sosa & Bonds

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Stephen Green, a fellow Oak Parker and the Chicago Cubs’ official photographer, for a segment to air on Oak Park’s Channel 6.

Through the end of the month at the Oak Park Public Library, Green has an exhibit of some 30 of the thousands upon thousands of photos he has taken since he began working with the Cubs in 1983. One is of Sammy Sosa listening to Barry Bonds as he discussed a hitting technique before the All-Star Game, circa 2004.

At the time, both had come under suspicion, to say the least, of having used illegal performance-enhancing substances to elevate their efforts. As Green and I spoke, I mused aloud if subsequent revelations of cheating somehow tainted the artistry of a photographer’s work.

Since my interview with Green, Sosa’s name has surfaced–to nobody’s surprise–as one of the 100-odd Major League players who tested positive for illegal performing-enhancing substance use in 2003, the same year he was caught using a corked bat.

Over the past several days, I have arrived at an answer to my question: the artistry of the photograph isn’t tainted, but it takes on a different tone–such as irony or tragedy.

The same is true for any writing related to those heady, naive times, such as my development of a baseball statistic, the Home Run Power Ratio, that was featured in an October 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Just as it’s impossible to undo a photograph from its place and time, it’s far-fetched to think that anyone could re-calibrate statistics by weeding out cheating, which comes in so many forms, both blatant and subtle.

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Amid Steroid Era, Aaron’s Legacy Shines

The other day, I saw a fantastic cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It shows a huge Hank Aaron, the all-time baseball great, towering over the likes of steroid-taking cheaters Barry Bonds (technically, but scandalously, the all-time home run king), Alex “A-Fraud” Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens.

As you can see by clicking on the image above, the quote bubble coming from Rodriguez reads: “How come when WE take steroids, HE gets bigger?”

It’s quite a different scenario than 1998.

That is the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated baseball fans with their single-season home run record chase. At the time, I was a reporter for The Courier News in Elgin, Ill., and wrote a column called “By the Numbers.”

It was all the excuse I needed to research 80 years of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers’ statistics, to see how McGwire, Sosa and others stacked up against history.

Along the way, I invented the Home Run Power Ratio, a home run inflation index that enables relevant comparisons between players from various generations by objectively gauging how they fared against their peers.

I wrote various pieces on the HRPR, including one for a grand baseball publication called The Elysian Fields Quarterly.

Then, at the end of the 1999 season, Sports Illustrated, published
a brief piece, “Home Run Standouts,” on the HRPR.

Alas, the numbers don’t seem so objective any longer, as revelations about steroid use continue to dog some of the game’s biggest names.


The latest is Rodriguez, the heir apparent to the career home run record. Long known as “A-Rod,” he will forevermore have to live with the “A-Fraud” label.

And in terms of legacy and reputation, that’s one development impossible to fully measure.

1998: A Storied, Um, Steroid Summer

Getting a bit nostaglic lately, as I think back to a decade ago.

Ten years ago marked America’s Summer of Falling Back in Love with Major League Baseball.

That’s the year Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated fans–and recaptured many who had grown disillusioned by the 1994 strike that deep-sixed the season in mid-August.

At the time, I was a reporter for The Courier News in Elgin, Ill., with a side column called “By the Numbers.” The column was all the excuse I needed to research 80 years of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers’ statistics.

Along the way, I invented a stat, which I dubbed the Home Run Power Ratio. It’s a sort of inflation index for homers so you can compare players from various generations by objectively gauging how they fared against their peers.

I wrote various pieces on the HRPR, including one for a grand baseball publication called The Elysian Fields Quarterly.

My true grand-slam moment, though, came at the end of the 1999 season, when Sports Illustrated, the magazine I’d dreamt of writing for since I began subscribing as a 10-year-old in 1978, published a brief piece on the HRPR.

In recent years, the romance with America’s Pastime has been tarnished, a sense of betrayal having set in after we discovered that everyone but the batboy, seemingly, was using steroids to swing for the fences.

But it sure was fun when we were in the midst of it, huh?