Thursday, March 25, 2004

Steroids: Is this Fatal to the Game?

As a fan of the game, I am more than just peripherally concerned with the steroid issue in baseball. For all its flaws baseball was a sport we could all aspire to play and enjoy in weekend leagues. Baseball never required intense scrutiny to enjoy, unlike American Football or Basketball. If you turn to talk to a friend or walk to get a hotdog chances are not much will be missed. Much unlike basketball’s fast paced ball movement and shifting screens. All that being said, a cloud is hanging over baseball.

Not since 1919 has the game itself been in so much danger of losing its fan base. The fairness of baseball has never been is so much question as it is now. We live in a world where drugs are vilified and embraced depending upon the political moniker attached to the drug. Marijuana is bad but Codeine is good. Where do steroids fit into all of this? Politically, the use of Steroids affects the fairness of the game and causes our children to believe that winning at all costs is acceptable. I am not sure if all of that is true. What I do believe is that some players are using and some are not giving some an unfair advantage over others. The playing field, as it were, is not level. Additionally, Baseball never seemed to be a sport that needed steroids. But it was in front of our eyes the whole time.

Mark McGuire, baseball’s hero of 1997, admitted to using Andro a human growth hormone. McGuire’s race with Sosa saved baseball. The interest in the sport had dwindled significantly over the preceding years. Rising ticket prices, out of control salaries, strike shortened seasons and a general lack of excitement had dwindled baseball’s market to the point that Football became America’s de facto pass time. McGuire and Sosa brought baseball back from the dead and it appears that was in part due to performance enhancing drugs. Taken to its conclusion, steroids saved baseball.

When I think about the time I spent watching that race, I somehow feel cheated. I was excited the entire season, naively I never even considered that either player was using steroids. Steroids in baseball, Why? It did not seem the type of sport that leant itself to the need. Steroids were for mass and baseball was about skill right? Wrong. Prior to that time there was not much talk about bat speed equating to power, which is almost common knowledge today.

Baseball is essentially a sport about records and numbers. How many games did you win, how many did you lose, how many strikeouts, how many walks. It is all about numbers. The old timers, at least to the best of our knowledge, put up their numbers without the aid of drugs. Williams, Mays, Ruth, Robinson and even Mendoza (known for his career batting average of .200 which is known in baseball jargon as the “Mendoza Line” the cut off between an acceptable and unacceptable hitter) all earned their reputations through their own abilities and hard work. That is not true any longer.

What do the numbers mean today? In a word nothing. Why even keep track … we will never know who did and did not use. But we know that some did (i.e. Canseco and Camanitti). Do we wipe records, put asterisks, or remove plaques from the hall of fame. Even if we did all of that would it remove the tarnish from the game? No, there will always be cheaters in every walk of life, we all know that and expect it to some degree. Simply put, Baseball was supposed to be different, almost an ideal type. Baseball was a place we could turn to forget the real world for at least a little while. This is a romantic concept … but I think it is one that a lot of people shared.

The game cannot be watched in the same fashion any longer. It is now the same as football, basketball and hockey. Steroids and other drug use, trouble with the law, and simply big business with an agenda. Because, it is clear that the owners benefited from steroid use through higher offense. More offense means more scoring and more scoring means more people in the stands and higher profits. Whether they had actual knowledge or were simply willfully blind to the situation is not really important at this stage of the game.

Baseball was a sport where it was fun to be a fan. Baseball was poetic in its simplicity and tradition. It was the same game for more than 100 years … one of the only things that can be pointed to as an American tradition. I am not sure if I feel that way any longer. Now baseball is simply another outlet for tabloid media.

By: R. Barker
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