Statistics, cherished milestones and individual achievements long have formed the fabric from which major-league baseball is woven, providing endless sources of material for debates, comparisons and the ever-growing fantasy leagues.
But in the so-called "Steroid Era" of baseball, you have to ask this question: What's real and what's unreal?
That topic arose again when Los Angeles Dodgers slugger from the Dominican Republic, Manny Ramírez, who was suspended 50 games for using a banned substance. Unless Ramírez was trying to become the first male in history to get pregnant, there was no reasonable explanation for using a female fertility drug.
That drug is most commonly used by athletes to get their body to resume normal testosterone production after coming off a cycle of using steroids. Perhaps we now know why Ramírez waited until the end of spring training to accept an offer from the Dodgers that had been on the table for weeks.
Yes, baseball's new drug policy obviously is working. But that's merely a subplot to the ongoing story of one big star after another being "outed" as a cheater, making all major-leaguers guilty by association, fair or not.
Baseball's all-time home run list once was dominated by a revered group of legendary sluggers whose exploits assured plaques in the Hall of Fame. Now, that list is tainted by those who used/or were suspected to have used performance-enhancing substances to compile those gaudy numbers.
Of the top 17 players on the all-time list, six have either tested positive for performance-enhancing substances, admitted to using them or have been linked to their use: Barry Bonds (first), Sammy Sosa (sixth), Mark McGwire (eighth), Rafael Palmeiro (10th), Alex Rodríguez (12th) and now Ramírez (17th).
"Guys like Manny and A-Rod, Barry, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire have so many fans across America that live and die with every at-bat or every pitch. And now they think differently," said Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones.
Jones wondered aloud how many more blows baseball could absorb as far as top-tier players being exposed as cheats. And he admitted it's impossible to escape guilt by association.
"You can't have arguably the greatest pitcher of our era (Clemens), arguably the two greatest players of our era (Bonds and Rodríguez) and now another very, very good player (Ramírez) be under this cloud of suspicion and not feel like it's ruined it for everybody," said Jones.
"But what are you going to do? You can't be born in another era. It is what it is. It is the 'Steroid Era.' We're all going to have to answer steroid questions mostly likely for the rest of our career. We're all going to have to be judged accordingly."
Speaking of the best players, you have to feel for St. Louis slugger, also from the Dominican Republic, is Albert Pujols at this particular stage. Rodríguez, Ramírez and Pujols generally are regarded as being on a level above all other major-leaguers in terms of offensive performance, and two have been exposed as cheaters.
Acknowledging the scrutiny this might bring for Pujols, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, "Good. Bring it on. That'll make him even greater."
Unfortunately for Pujols, that's what we used to think about Rodríguez and Ramírez.