Thursday, December 13, 2007

Say It Ain't So, *

The ugly truth is now out, even if it has seemed inevitable for quite some time.
The report by former Senator George Mitchell has been released, and it has linked over 80 Major League Baseball players to steroid use.
It seems sad that there is not more shock or outrage. Instead, this scandal seems like a foregone conclusion.
Baseball was The Great American Game once upon a time. Whoever first called it that is now lost in the murk of history, and the phrase itself is probably headed for extinction, unless some desperate sports publicist tries to resurrect it.
Even if you never played the game--even if you didn't like it--if you grew up in America in the 20th century, baseball was probably a major fixture of your youth.
I know it was for me. Some of my earliest memories consisted of lying in bed on a summer night when I was four or five, as my brother Joe and I listened to a Reds game on WLW. I'll never forget the monaural whirr of those broadcasts. I didn't know much about baseball yet. I thought a home run was the only way to score (the guys just ran around the bases for the exercise), and I had no idea what a shortstop did. But as I heard the names--Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion, and the rest of what would later become known as "The Big Red Machine"--I knew that this thing called baseball was something timeless and important. Or so it seemed.
My brothers and I followed the Reds through the World Series years of the '70s, into a long, bad stretch in the '80s. Then there was that great championship season of 1990, with its sweep of the A's in four games.
At some point after that, my interest in baseball started to wane. Perhaps it was because I began to work in horse racing and had less time to follow other sports. Maybe it was due to the 1994 players' strike, which cut a season short right when it was getting interesting. Or perhaps it was the sport's financial inequities, which have turned 26 franchises into farm teams for the other four. In any case, I could sense that something had changed in the sport, and not for the better.
And now you have an obvious cheater holding the coveted home run crown and a report on steroid abuse that reads like an All-Star Game roster, all coming off the heels of a World Series that no one outside of New England or Colorado cared about.
I've heard it said that the top three sports of my grandpa's generation were baseball, boxing and horse racing. They were the most popular sports in the first half of the 20th century, but have each lost their dominance. The reason most pundits cite is that they are too slow for a modern audience that craves constant action. But it should be noted that allegations of cheating have been widespread in all three as well.
I'm not naive enough to think that things were better in the old days. Babe Ruth may have done it on hot dogs and beer, but who's to say he wouldn't have used steroids if given the opportunity? Maybe baseball hasn't gotten worse so much as chemistry has gotten better.
Some may feel that a piece of their innocence was lost with today's announcement of the Mitchell Report--but maybe innocence is overrated.

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