I grew up in the 1960’s when The World Series was professional baseball’s only postseason event. How I respected the sport. There were no divisions and the designated hitter rule was just a thought.
Over the years, pro football became more popular, and I saw our national pastime begin to decline. Expansion diluted the talent, and there were a couple of players’ strikes. That dreaded DH rule took away some strategy from the game, and made the American League a hitter’s paradise and those sacred statistics that the true baseball fans worship were starting to skew out of order. On top of that, one of my heroes, Pete Rose gambled on his team. To be honest, I was only echoing public sediment as I, too, became enamored with the National Football League. Baseball became boring to me.
In 1998 baseball appeared to be making a comeback. Nearly everyone, including me, enjoyed the home run derby Sammie Sosa and Mark McGwire put on in front of the nation’s eyes. The casual fan, as I considered myself at that time, turned on their televisions and came to the ball parks. I was interested in baseball again!
I knew there were still problems no one wanted to talk about. Besides the owners fleecing local taxpayers for money to build their ballparks and line their pockets, an issue I was upset about, there was the issue of performance enhancing drugs.
It was so obvious to me, as it was to many. The record breaking marks of a bulky McGwire and a muscle bound Sosa were the result of steroids. It was the reason for a much stronger Barry Bonds blasting 73 homers in 2001. I still had hope that baseball was not completely ruined after the wonderful World Series where the underdog Diamondbacks used a near miracle ninth inning rally to beat the Yankees only six weeks after nine-eleven.
My hope dwindled. Baseball would never be like I remember forty years ago. The League’s drug problem continued. The thorn that stuck in my side was the lack of action by Commissioner Bud Selig. He looked the other way, as did the owners, comfortable in their stadium suites that you and I help finance. Baseball is ruined.
The Mitchell Report is nothing new. I knew steroids were rampant. It confirmed my suspicions that each of the thirty teams had player that was dirty. In fact, I suspect the use of performance enhancing drugs probably goes much deeper. The Mitchell Report only confirmed that baseball had already lost its credibility.
There are easy reasons why players turn to steroids. They can gain an advantage or they can continue to perform at a high level as they age, however, the most obvious is simply money. Roger Clemens, who was accused in the Mitchell report, earned $18 million in 2005 at the ripe age of 43. Just ten years earlier, thought to be in his prime, his salary was a mere $140,000. With the high salaries of MLB, it is easy to conclude that steroids are an incentive for some.
As for the future, baseball will survive. It always has and always will. That, plus the many loyal and devoted fans who love the inner workings of this complicated game, is the strength of the sport. I can only pray that Commissioner Selig will do something about the issue of drugs in Major League Baseball. If past actions and gut feelings count for something, he will not. And that is a shame.