x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Chris Davis is guilty by association in the MLB

If he hits a lot of home runs he must be on steroids. End of story. That is how baseball fans look at sluggers now, because what we saw before was for the most part a big lie.

The hitting prowess of Chris Davis has attracted suspicion.
The hitting prowess of Chris Davis has attracted suspicion.

The mark is 61, no matter what the record books say.

Roger Maris is Major League Baseball's single-season home run champion, regardless of how many home runs Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa - all found to have used steroids – managed to hit.

He will be the champion until someone deposits No 62 over a fence and then does something even more difficult by convincing us that it was done without the benefit of modern chemistry.

That someone could be Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles. He has 45 home runs with 38 games left, and is on a pace to threaten the record, if not break it.

It will not be easy, and the pressure will mount with each at-bat. Maris lost hair in clumps, 52 years ago, as he chased the record of 60 set by Babe Ruth in 1927. Maris also endured hate mail and death threats along the way.

Davis has some control over what happens on the field. He does not when it comes to the court of public opinion.

If he hits a lot of home runs he must be on steroids. End of story. That is how many baseball fans look at sluggers now, because what we saw before was, for the most part, a big lie.

It may not be fair to Davis, but that is the world we live in. Presumed guilty until proven innocent, and do not bother with the protests of that innocence. We have heard them before so many times, that even the lies of Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun cannot shock us anymore.

Never mind that Davis has always shown great power and has never, as far as we know, tested positive for anything that might increase that power. Never mind that he himself considers the single-season record to be 61, or that he has handled the inevitable questions about where his power comes from directly and without the feigned outrage we have seen from others.

"I've got nothing to hide," Davis said at the All-Star game last month.

"I want people to know that. I want people to feel like they can get behind me."

If only it were that easy. If only we could all find a way to believe once again.

It would be a joyful way to finish off a season, must-see TV every night for any baseball fan.

It would also be a perfect antidote to a season darkened by the game's biggest drug scandal, the Biogenesis mess, and a year when some of the greatest players were denied entry into the Hall of Fame.

But we remember Rafael Palmeiro shaking his finger before Congress and declaring he had never taken steroids. We have read transcripts of Bonds saying he believed that banned drugs he called "the clear" and "the cream" were nothing but flaxseed oil. We fell for Sosa and McGwire and their 1998 summer of peace, love and home runs.

If it is any consolation to Davis, he is not the only one fans find themselves wondering about.

Miguel Cabrera last season became the first player in 45 years to win the baseball triple crown - leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. He has a chance to do it again this year.

He does things so astonishing that Jim Leyland, the Detroit manager, says he is the best right-handed hitter he has ever seen. (Leyland listed Bonds as the best left-hand hitter.)

No one has suggested Cabrera is dirty, and there is no evidence that he is. But do you want to risk US$100 (Dh367) buying his jersey and spending your time cheering him on when most of the sluggers before him were all part of a charade?

And then there is Albert Pujols, who has largely stayed out of the performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) discussion despite his dominant numbers over the past decade. Pujols says he plans to take legal action against player-turned-pundit Jack Clark for saying on a radio show that Pujols had taken PEDs.

Let us hope Pujols follows through on his threat to sue. Assuming he has always been clean he has nothing to lose in a lawsuit and everything to gain. His reputation would be upheld, his status as one of the game's greats would be cemented, and he can go back to worrying about how to live up to the next eight years on his $240m contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

But lawsuits can be a tricky thing. Does Pujols want an opposing attorney dissecting everything he has done in his career and everything he has ever put in his body? Is he so sure of the rightness of his cause that he will risk the kind of scrutiny he has never seen?

Again, it can be conceded the process is not fair. Pujols should not have to defend himself simply because he is a big hitter. It is presumed guilt by association.

That includes Davis, who has already hit 12 more home runs this year than he did all of last season. The closer he gets to the record the more speculation there will be, a type of pressure that Maris did not have to deal with when he broke Ruth's mark.

It is not the best time to be chasing one of the game's most hallowed records. But there will be a time when everyone will have to move on or just give up on the game itself.

About all we can do now is hope that Davis is one of the rare ones who can actually be believed.


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