America’s Favorite Pastime – So What Happened?

What happened to baseball? Thirty years ago it was the national pastime. Now? Not so much. It’s been passed up by just about everything. ESPN, the so-called “World-wide Leader In Sports” has regulated it to a third-or fourth tier sport, at best. Don’t believe me? Look at the top of their website! Okay, now that the World Series is on, it might be there. But it might not. During the season, baseball scores got shunted to the back of the list behind the NFL, NBA, NHL, European Football (Soccer), Tennis, Golf and, at one point, Women’s Volleyball! Not that I’m belittling Women’s Volleyball, but damn baseball has lost it. And it seems to go back to one thing: Steroids.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, baseball was still going strong on the backs of players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. (Among others, of course, but for the purpose of this article…) When McGwire and Sosa were going for the single season home run record in ’98, it was beyond front page news. I remember when McGwire was coming up to the plate to potentially hit is 55th home run – not definitely going to, potentially going to. It’s never a given with baseball. That’s why it’s fun to watch. Fifty-five wasn’t even the single season record, but his at-bat took center stage on CNN, not ESPN – CNN the main news channel of the day, and a presidential speech was shifted and shrunk to the side of the screen. The sound stayed with the president, Bill Clinton, for those of you who don’t remember or even go back that far. What did Bill have to say? Who knows? McGwire grounded out to second and I stopped paying attention.

Then, the allegations hit. Baseball players were using illegal substances to enhance their abilities! McGwire wasn’t naturally that large! Sosa was ‘juicing’! Bonds didn’t know what he was taking! A-Rod was on a list of something at a pharmaceutical company! Was there any proof of this? Well, no. Just lots of allegations. McGwire admitted to using supplements that you can buy at Wal-Mart. Not the over the counter stuff but off the shelf! But anyone can get to those. Hell, I can go buy those now!

Bonds was amusing to me in this area. He admitted to using “the cream” and “the clear.” Two lotions he was asked to try by a doctor. The complaint was that they were steroid lotions. Most people had never heard of such a thing, but they were sure in a hurry to make a fuss over it. I recall a friend of mine, a dentist, and there’s a reason I mention that, who had a big problem with it. He wondered how Bonds could use something without knowing all the ingredients. That was unthinkable to him. I pointed out that Bonds was a left-fielder with no medical training, to my knowledge, and not a doctor, and asked why that was unthinkable. I said, “You’re a dentist, right?” He nodded. “And you brushed your teeth this morning right?” He nodded again. “What are the ingredients in your toothpaste?” His face drooped so much it nearly fell off. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. He nodded and conceded that I had a good point.

Barry Bonds deserved better than this.  They all did.  Be honest, did you know steroids could be in a cream form?
Barry Bonds deserved better than this. They all did. Be honest, did you know steroids could be in a cream form?
© Major League Baseball

So, I ask you this, what is so wrong with using steroids? Might that not be the next evolution in the game? There have been a number of evolutions throughout the 150 years the game has existed professionally. Rules change. Times change. Equipment changes. Medicine changes. The world progresses. Should we stop the game altogether if there’s a progression of some sort? Should those who use progressions be banned from the game? Let’s look at some of these quickly.

Laser eye surgery is a fairly recent thing that several players have used including former Atlanta Braves all-star catcher Brian McCann. Should being able to see better make McCann ineligible for the Hall of Fame? I’m not sure his numbers would put him there anyway, but if that’s a killer, then we’d have to remove all players who might have had it during this era when it existed. No more Tony Gwynn, Chipper Jones, Randy Johnson, Cal Ripken or Ken Griffey Jrs. They existed during a time when a surgery could have helped them unfairly. Previous generations didn’t have it so they’ve got to go. Potential cheaters, you know.

Let’s move it back a bit further. Weight training became a big thing in the ’70s. New training machines. Teams would hire trainers to help with it. That makes them stronger and that’s an advantage that previous generations didn’t have. So out are Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench and Willie Stargell.

Further back? How about amphetamines or “greenies”? Who knows who took what back then! Maybe everyone! No one was testing for it! We have to eliminate everyone from that era forward, too. No Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson!

How about film? That’s a technological advantage! Some players got to see pitchers before they got to see pitchers thanks to film. Studying them in more detail than written words in a report. Darn you news reels! That generation has to go, too! No Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams or Stan Musial!

Then there’s the biggie! The baseball used to be loosely held together with twine and spit… or at least it seemed that way. The manufactured baseball was harder and more live. The home run totals jumped dramatically during the early live ball years! But that’s a technological advantage not had by our ancestors so gone are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx!

Who does that leave for the Hall of Fame? Cy Young, Ty Cobb and Cap Anson – as far as household names go, and Anson is pushing it. A great start for a team, but hardly representative of the sport as a whole, which is what a Hall of Fame should be. All of the players I’ve mentioned should be in, regardless of how time has progressed. I’m including McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and A-Rod.

I’ll agree that steroids that are illegal in general should be banned and make players ineligible. But suspending players for albuterol, which is an asthma medicine, is insane. Vitamin B12? I can get that at my local grocery store. Why is it on the list? And speaking of lists, Alex Rodriguez being on that list at BioGenesis. I am still waiting to find out about that. No one knows what kind of list it was. I suspect it was a list of baseball cards a janitor needed to complete a set. If there’s evidence of a crime, I get that. Leave them out. But, until then, there really is nothing on them other than making the game so popular it saved the game itself after the strike of ’94.

This is not the way they should be thanked.

Now, of course, there is the safety issue. Steroids do have a tendency to lead to injuries and have after effects. What do we do about those? Simple, educate the players. Teach how to use them properly and responsibly, if at all. That should, of course, be an option. Are the risks you take now to get the millions of dollars worth the potential sterilization or liver cancer or hypertrophy? It should be up to the players whether to use them or not.

Will fans have an issue with this? Don’t be silly. Of course they will. Whenever there is an evolutionary upgrade in society, fans cry out that their heroes growing up didn’t have those and therefore their players are better. They will bemoan how today’s players have it so easy. They will complain to anyone who will listen about how this new upgrade is going to kill the sport forever. Well, it’s still around, and it seems pretty evident from the decline in media coverage, that not evolving, like they tried to do twenty years ago, is what’s killing America’s Pastime.

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