I don’t know about you, but as a baseball fan, today I feel totally broken hearted.
If you’re a sports fan, and more specifically a fan of Major League Baseball, it’s difficult to feel anything but sorry for yourself following the events of the last few days.
Already a damaged sport, baseball, which has forever been known as America’s favorite pastime, may have suffered a blow it’s unable to fully recover from.
Alex Rodriguez, the golden boy of the sport and arguably the most talented athlete who plays it, admitted yesterday he was guilty of using performance enhancing drugs between the years of 2001 and 2003.
The A-Rod story has already been beaten to death (and deservedly so) but I wanted to talk about something I feel has now become an even bigger issue, which is the integrity the game still has (if any) along with the importance it will have moving forward.
Talking about Rodriguez briefly, you can give him all the credit you want for being honest and admitting his use, but that simply doesn’t cut it.
He cheated. Plain and simple, and as clear as can be.
The man was “A-Fraud’ in every sense of the word.
Hall of fame? Forget it.
If I had a vote, there isn’t a chance that he, or anybody linked to using steroids belongs among the immortals of the game who may have been everything from drunks to racists, but also earned their immortality by playing the game the way it was supposed to be played.
There cannot be a spot in Cooperstown for a player who knowingly gave himself an illegal edge in a sport most will agree he never needed to begin with.
Of course anybody who is familiar with the kind of person Alex Rodriguez has revealed himself to be, he’s a selfish, superficial, self conscious and as he proved during his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons yesterday, utterly disingenuous.
(Watch it for yourself below)
Sure, he admitted to using these illegal substances, but as Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated points out, his interview raised more questions than answers.
Ironically, for a player who is as obsessed with being bigger than the game as Rodriguez is, his use and admission may be the very thing which pushes baseball to the point of no return.
If it hasn’t already, baseball is on the cusp of losing it’s innocence.
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Remember how simple it was when we were kids?
For almost all of us, we knew we weren’t going pro. We knew we weren’t going make millions playing a game. But it was that game we came to love.
We loved it because it just felt pure to play.
Having a catch in the backyard. Little league at bats. High school try outs.
No matter how far you went, just playing was more than enough.
The real treat was always seeing the big boys make it look so easy at the ballpark.
Seeing our idols in person was as cool as it got.
They became our idols and our heroes.
These men were larger than life, and were getting paid- lots, and lots of money- to play a game we would have given years of our life to spend a day playing on the big stage.
We looked up to these people because we saw them as everything we knew we couldn’t be.
Of course as we get older, we learn some of the harsh realities that life reveals to us.
At some point, sooner than later for most, we learn that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, we won’t turn into a piece of candy no matter how much of it eat and girls, in fact, don’t have cooties.
Of course the other truth we learn is that human beings, as wonderful as they may appear, make mistakes.
That applies to everyone from our teachers to our parents to the very athletes we thought were infallible.
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Professional athletes aren’t perfect, no matter how many records they’ve broken, championship’s they’ve won or gold medals they’ve earned.
Forgetting about Major League Baseball for a moment, you have Kobe Bryant, among the brightest stars in the NBA who a few years back was accused of rape, and although he had the charges against him dropped, his image was permanently altered.
You have Michael Phelps, who despite winning eight gold medals wasn’t able to swim his way out of a photograph which showed him smoking out of a bong. Phelps was suspended three months and his image has also been tarnished.
Speaking of Olympians, while not discriminating gender, Marion Jones also was a gold medalist who was found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs and had to relinquish the medals she earned.
The NFL most recently has Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress shoot himself in the leg, ending his season and ruining his teams chances of repeating as champions.
Of course baseball takes the cake when it comes to the star power of the mistake prone.
Look back at the last fifteen years, and think of the biggest names the sport has produced:
Three come to mind, and those names are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez.
Wouldn’t you know it, all three find themselves at the center of the steroids storm. While Rodriguez gave his admission yesterday, allowing him to salvage a shred of respect, Bonds and Clemens have steadily denied their alleged drug use since the allegations were first made.
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As baseball continues to struggle with it’s image, the biggest hit isn’t take by the sport, but rather by the people who invest their time and money in it.
I’m talking about us. The fans. The kids and the teenagers and parents who grew up loving this game, continued to love it as we got older and for those of us lucky enough have passed on that love to our children.
We are left watching press conferences and reading tell all books and watching staged interviews instead of worry about why our favorite team hasn’t signed that all star left fielder or why our team’s best player, with a runner on third and nobody out, ahead in the count 3-0, couldn’t work out a walk or find a way to get that runner in.
Instead of cheering for records to be broken we are now forced to cheer for them to withstand the test of time.
I think I speak on behalf of all baseball fans when I say that as bad as a season may end, or as bad as an at bat may go or a pitcher’s start may be, those are disappointments you learn to live with. As they always say there’s always next year for your team to get back on the horse and try again.
But finding out one of your hero’s turned out to be nothing more than a liar and cheater? Where does that fan turn?
After spending the money on the jerseys, and after driving hours and hours to see them play and arguing with your friends until you lose your voice that your favorite player is better than theirs, what are you left with?
Baseball, and sports for that matter, are intended to be our escape from reality. However what happens when we need an escape from our escape?
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The main point I was hoping to make is actually more of a question I’ll propose:
Has Major League Baseball become nothing more than a fraud?
Has our beloved pastime been battered and bruised so badly that it’s unrecognizable?
I’m not sure the sport is beyond rescue, however with the Alex Rodriguez revelations, baseball is dangerously close to losing the faith of its loyal fan base.
Sure, the owners will still make their money and the players will still get their paychecks but what about the fans?
In an economy that continues to free fall, and ticket prices that continue skyrocket, baseball hasn’t helped itself in an effort to convince fans to spend that extra dollar and show up for a product that is holding on by a thread.
When the sport’s biggest names have turned out to be nothing more than cheaters, why leave the couch and pay money to watch the selfish, greedy villains disappoint us more with their actions off the field than on it?
At what point do we stop watching all together?
The saddest reality is that such a question needs to be raised.
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I’ll end with this, a quote from the movie of all movies when it comes to baseball, Field of Dreams.
“The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past…It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again…”
Whether or not the sport is capable of reminding us why we fell in love with it in the first place has never been more uncertain.