As Howard gives chase, Maris is still the man

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Jeff Passan: Maris clan says Howard would be worthy of record

If Ryan Howard clubs nine more home runs this season, giving him 62, then the Philadelphia Phillies first baseman should be recognized as the single-season, 162-game home run champion.

It's as simple as that.

Maybe not for Major League Baseball, which is not planning on commemorating such a feat because, technically, three other players Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66, 64 and 63) have posted bigger numbers, surpassing the long-standing record of Roger Maris, who hit 61 in 1961.

But since when has MLB been correct about things, particularly when it comes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs?

Baseball is loath to admit that it blew it during the late 1990s and early 2000s when Bonds, McGwire and Sosa – each as juiced as a glass of squeezed oranges – made a mockery of the record book and spit in the face of Maris' accomplishment.

But every reasonable, intelligent and rational person knows otherwise. Those three's numbers were achieved not with natural skill but with superior chemistry.

And that is why people – if not the powers that be – should recognize Maris' 61 homer mark as the rightful record.

And it's why if Howard, the big-swinging second-year player, can drill nine more dingers in his final 24 games, then he takes over.

"If he breaks it, it's legit," Roger Maris' son, Rich, told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday.

Yes, the sudden rise of this 26-year-old causes pause. As I wrote earlier this week, the fact that MLB does not test for human growth hormone or many other favored drugs means declaring any player 100 percent clean is a leap of faith. And after a summer of scandal courtesy of Floyd Landis, Marion Jones and others, it is natural to be skeptical.

But this is what we have. This is the new reality. We can either take each performance on a case-by-case basis or write off the entire operation and no longer believe any accomplishment ever again.

What we have is this: Baseball is testing for some performance-enhancing drugs and Ryan Howard has not failed any tests. Moreover, with his big frame – 6-foot-4, 250 pounds – that doesn't look bloated or strained like the previous three, and his history of being a power hitter back to high school, he at least looks clean.

Maybe he winds up burning us, but at this stage he passes both the drug test and the sniff test.

"In my mind," said Rich Maris, "I feel Ryan Howard's clean. If baseball's doing what they're supposed to be doing and say they're doing – I feel bad for people bashing him.

"Right now people should be looking at baseball saying it's cleaned up. I know if I were a baseball player, there would be no way I'd come close to touching that stuff. Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He had first-ballot Hall of Fame statistics. And then that stuff comes out."

If Rich Maris is for it, then that is good enough for me. This is a painful subject for the Maris family, who were burned by the steroid boys. They rightfully consider their father the single-season record holder and, truth be told, aren't that interested in seeing someone else break it.

Worse, they had a front row seat to watch the McGwire fraud show back in 1998, an empty uniform trying to pretend he was their dad's equal. He certainly was not.

"At the time, it was quite a feat," said Rich Maris. "We were in awe. It seemed to happen so fast. We were along for the ride like the rest of the country. Every time McGwire hit one, it was like, ‘Wow, he did it again.' And now you just look at that and laugh."

I wouldn't blame them for crying.

The truth is Roger Maris is the home run champion right now and nothing the official MLB record book says changes that.

Which is why baseball fans should flock to Howard's historic pursuit. If MLB lacks the courage and conviction to do what's right, then the people should – out of respect for Ryan Howard and out of respect for Roger Maris.

ESPN should be cutting in for each at-bat, and newspapers should be chronicling the countdown. The honest should be celebrated and the cheats ignored.

Anything less is to reward the crooked and condemn the truth.

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