The luster is gone.
When I was growing up, the records which were then held by some of the most revered people to have ever played the game were being eclipsed. It was supposed to be historic for America’s Past Time, and at the time of the Sosa/McGwire Home Run chase, it was. Being a broke kid with no cable in 1998, it was nice to see baseball games on in prime time on FOX and when McGwire hit Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel’s pitch 341 feet just over the left field wall to hit number 62, with Roger Maris’ family in attendance, it was magic. Sosa’s embrace of McGwire was as well, and that was widely credited as what restored the public’s interest and faith in baseball after the terrible strike in 1994, which cancelled the World Series that year (and crushed the dreams of Montreal Expos fans, everywhere). McGwire would go on to finish the season with 70 home runs, which stood for only 3 seasons when Barry Bonds would finish the 2001 season with 73.
Then came the PED stories. For the better part of the past decade, the stories have been about one thing, steroids in baseball. All of the top names from the era of my youth were eventually named on reports as to being linked to Performance Enhancing Drug usage. From Roger Clemens, perhaps the most dominant pitcher of his generation, to Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. All accused, all with evidence pointing to them, and all with stories and in Palmeiro’s case, the epic finger wag.
Through the years, more and more names were added as users and perhaps the biggest one came in the form of New York Yankees third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod may have acted unfavorable in certain situations, quite frankly, acting very boneheaded in public, but he was clean. He represented at one point, baseball’s chance to have a player that was clean, reclaim some of the records from some of the tainted record holders and he was supposed to do it in the biggest market in New York. It was to be, if nothing else, MLB’s way out of recognizing Bonds as the all time home run king.
Then, Alex was found as not only being a user, but a liar. The way that he handled himself when put into the spotlight regarding this was embarrassing. Had he gone the route of, say, Andy Pettitte whom acknowledged what he did, said that he was wrong, apologized, and went out and continued playing with no further slip ups, then this might…..MIGHT be a different story. Alex did not do this, and proceeded to throw whomever he could under the bus until eventually, he could lie no more. He was suspended for all of the 2014 season for his part in the Biogenesis scandal.
I can go two ways with this. In the time that Alex FIRST started taking PED’s, while in Texas, it was not illegal to do and in fact, it is believed that most everybody did it. I don’t fault him for being young and impressionable at that time, remember, he did get called to the majors at age 18. I fault him for not being upfront about it when asked, not being honorable and instead, treating people like scumbags for accusing him of being a user.
Instead, I’m going about this as a lifelong New York Yankees fan. The Yankees pride themselves on honor and tradition, despite non Yankee fans claiming it’s all about overspending or whatever. Based on how the Yankees sell themselves, I was puzzled when they made the deal to actually acquire Alex before the 2004 season. Fast forward to 2015 and he is on his record setting/eclipsing season. So far, he has passed Willie Mays on the home run list, set an AL record for most career RBI’s (moving himself into fourth on the all-time list), and recorded his 3,000th hit, joining both Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter as the only players to record the hit via a home run. This season should have been one to have a Yankeeography about and instead, it is watered down with the sad realization of what could have and should have been a real special time not only for Yankees fans, but baseball fans.
The PED stories took those moments away from us, and why? Was it Bud Selig’s way of trying to save face on his way out, since this all happened on his watch? Was it the media’s way of obtaining ratings consistently? For those of us watching the game, does it really matter that they took PED’s? Yes and no. Yes, because as a parent, you don’t want to set that expectation to your kid if he or she is that good, that you’d need to take something extra to be great, so I get that. No, because it made for such great television for a sport that needed it in a place where football is king.
So here we are. The records are still talked about and are still being broken. Milestones are being hit, and the world has stopped caring. Thank you, MLB, for that.
My hope is that in due time, as the steroid era players begin to retire, the game somehow goes back to the way it was and the records begin to mean something again. The magic, luster, and overall aura of the history, tradition, and love of the game of baseball should return because there truly is nothing like it.
Even in a football dominated world.