America’s Pastime is coming back

May 28, 2009 — by Guy Quanrud

America’s past time is full of spine-tingling moments. On May 25, 1935 the Great Bambino (Babe Ruth) clubbed his final home run, number 714, a milestone so exceeding his contemporaries that few of his generation could conceive of it ever being matched let alone surpassed. Of course it was, when Hammering Hank (Henry Aaron), of a race not even allowed to compete in Ruth’s era, knocked number 715 into the record books on April 8, 1974. He went on to finish with 755 and keep the crown until San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds passed him with a punishing shot on August 7, 2007.

Unfortunately missing from this timeline are the following dates: Dec. 4, 2004, in front of a federal grand jury, soon-to-be all time home run leader Barry Bonds admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs via the alleged “clear” and the “cream” steroids during the 2001, 2002, and 2003 seasons; Dec. 13, 2007, ex-chairman of the Walt Disney Corporation and former U.S senator George John Mitchell Jr. published the results of his own steroid investigation, identifying 89 major league baseball players including Bonds; Feb. 7, 2009, highest-paid baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez, widely hailed as the future home run crown holder, is exposed by Sports Illustrated as having taken steroids during his years in Texas.

Honestly, I think I just ruined my enthusiasm for talking baseball history just as other people are becoming disgusted as well. The steroid cloud hovering over baseball today has darkened the last couple of decades. Fans suspect a steroid extravaganza, with players getting green and cashing out the magical and pure sport of baseball tarnished forever. America’s love affair with baseball is in serious trouble.

The problem with steroids is that they ruin the beauty and art of baseball. Baseball is a sport that earns the respect of the intelligent observer through its well-executed double plays, pitches like the curve or the heater, the strikeout or the home run in a clutch situation when the crowd is on its feet. Interestingly enough steroids have given some of the players the fuel to deliver special moments for fan. But the teamwork on the field is hardly noticed when cheating players dictate the game.

Now undivided attention on certain athletes is baseball is pretty common. Every team has its leaders and superstars that the fans want to see the most. But now instead of applause and praise for the style of play like hall of fame players Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers in the 1960s or exciting Ozzie Smith at shortstop give to their teams, the superstar cheaters of today receive the unwanted boos and ridicule from fans. It’s frustrating for any fan to trust anyone now in baseball when the boundaries of fairness are broken through steroids America’s beloved past time is not visible when it’s difficult to respect the cheated players on the field.

The crackdown on performance enhancing drugs in baseball does provide a positive benefit. Youngsters are learning the lessons of the steroid bust and becoming smarter and more careful. Just last year, for the first time in my lifetime, I saw the biggest steroid team of our era, the New York Yankees not make the playoffs and instead watched the Tampa Bay Rays, a team made of youngsters from the aftermath of steroids, make their first world series appearance. In the World Baseball Classic this spring, Japan, a team with no trace of steroids in their blood, beat America again for their second title.

Despite baseball’s recent woes, the fans of baseball have plenty of reason to keep the faith. It is still America’s pastime. The Yankees are still wearing pin stripes, seeing a baseball game live in the stadium is one of the biggest thrills anyone can have, and being a fan is still fun.