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A-Rod's 3,000th: Another magic number bites the dust

A moment of silence, please.

Remove your hats and take a few seconds to remember one of the great magic numbers in sports -- 3,000 hits.

It used to make us interrupt our regularly scheduled lives, grab the remote and make sure we didn’t miss it.

It used to make us stop to reflect on the meaning of the moment, the aura of the men who have shared it and the greatness of the player whose historic rendezvous with history was about to arrive.

It used to be something special -- a number that separated baseball from all the other sports because everyone knew what it meant. No one had to explain it.

Oh, well. Those were the days.

On Friday night, in the House that Steinbrenner Built, Alex Rodriguez met his 3,000-hit moment. A packed stadium rose and cheered. He hopped out of the dugout and waved his cap. And a wave of joy swept through the Bronx, at least.

In the rest of America, though? If there was anywhere else in our great land where poets grabbed their pens, or grown adults wept with uncontrolled euphoria, then I somehow missed it.

But I’m still saddened by it.

I came to grips long ago with the worst ripple effect of the PED era -- the ruination of the coolest numbers, the most romantic records in any sport. When the awesome home run records and milestones lost all their meaning, baseball lost something beautiful that it can never get back.

Here’s what I mean:

Pretty much nobody walking down Main Street of your town, or any town, could tell you how many touchdown passes Peyton Manning threw that year he broke Whatsisname’s record. Or how many points Wilt Chamberlain scored the season he, well, scored all those points. Or how many goals the Great Gretzky slapped past those poor goaltenders the season he did what no hockey player had ever done before.

Nobody could tell you today. Nobody could tell you 20 years ago. Nobody could tell you five minutes after history was made. Not in those sports.

But once upon a time, even little old ladies at the sewing club could have told you what 60 homers meant. And 61. And 714. And 755. Because those were the greatest, most all-powerful records in sports.

Until they weren’t.

Big Mac came along. Barry Bonds came along. Their sport turned into an endless home run trot for a while there. And whatever you think of why it happened or how it happened or who was responsible for it happening, by the time most Americans realized it was happening, the damage was irreversible.

The great home run records of baseball, ladies and gentlemen: May they rest in peace.

But 3,000 hits? That was different. Still.

It was the magic number that wouldn’t die. It was the magic number that never lost its magic.

I remember being on an airplane, heading for the All-Star Game, the day that Derek Jeter reached 3,000 back in 2011. Up and down the plane, people asked each other: “Any word on Jeter? . . . Did he get The Hit? . . . Wait. He homered for his 3,000th? Really? Wow.”

OK, so it was a plane full of baseball people. But it was a reminder that this was a moment, this was a number, that still meant something. Even then.

But A-Rod’s 3,000th? What did that mean exactly -- outside of the stadium where he hit it?

It wasn’t front-page or back-page news in the newspapers in my town. I know that. It wasn’t a topic Mike & Mike even asked me about in my appearance on their show Friday.

It was, with absolutely no doubt, the least ballyhooed 3,000th hit in the history of baseball.

Is there even a debate about that? Anyone want to argue it? Please raise your hand if you do. Or at least send me a tweet. But if you disagree, let me assure you right now: You’re in the vast minority. America has voted on this. And it couldn’t care less.

So now let’s ask ourselves something important. What does that mean exactly?

Is this an A-Rod thing? Or is it a sign that even this number -- 3,000 -- has been scarred forever?

Is it just this particular 3,000th hit that so many people were so willing to ignore? Or are all the great offensive numbers tainted now?

And the honest answer is: I don’t pretend to know.

When Mike Trout gets his 3,000th hit some day -- and his 4,000th and his 5,000th -- I hope those moments will be different from this moment. I hope they’ll be magical and memorable. I hope they’ll be a sign that this special generation of young stars that is suddenly upon us is a group people can believe in, a group that can erase all the cynicism spread by the last generation.

But what about the generation in between?

What will the reaction be when Albert Pujols approaches 3,000 hits? And Adrian Beltre? And Miguel Cabrera? And Ichiro Suzuki? They’re all among the greatest players of modern times. But will that matter when their time comes?

I wish I could see that deep into the future. I wish my crystal ball had as clear a picture as the flat screen in my family room. I wish I knew. Really.

All I know for sure is that the reaction to those 3,000th hits will be telling us something. And I hope, for the sake of this sport, that what they tell us is that, ultimately, it was just A-Rod who America could so easily pretend didn’t matter anymore. So if he no longer mattered, neither did any of the history he was making on this or any other night.

But either way, I think something in baseball changed Friday night, when a man named Alex Rodriguez met what should have been an epic moment in time -- and all across this beautiful land, men, women and children everywhere turned to each other and asked:

“Hey, what’s on Netflix?”