The two biggest stories in baseball are connected, yet few people seem to be making the connections. It’s plain as day but eludes sports columnists and ESPN gurus alike. Steroids in baseball have begun making a decisive incision into what was once the national pastime. For years baseball had defied all reason and been followed by legions of fans despite its slow and methodical pace. Now, with the sudden increase in the size of baseball players, and the amount of scoring and most noticeably homeruns, many have begun challenging what we see on the diamond. With the claims of ex-baseball players who admit to have juiced up (and won the MVP one year thanks to it) many have turned away from the sports, much in the same way that people now ignore boxing. It’s fixed, or at least tarnished; it isn’t believable anymore.
The second major issue has been a surprising increase in baseball violence. While the two fan attack incidents have been the stories most often cited, what has been lost in the commotion has been the sheer increase in baseball brawls. A bench-clearing brawl in baseball has ritually been an enjoyable experience, a thrilling break from the continuous pitch and wait action. The fact that they were so rare amplified the drama, but now it has nearly become redundant. Spring training was chock full of them, and now any pitch too close inside is met by a swarm of 28 players chasing after the pitcher. Now, only a few days ago, a relatively minor act was been propelled into the public spotlight. Randall Simon hit a 19-year old girl in the head with his bat. This is how the story has been headlined, but in actuality he merely hit the cushioning of her “sausage” costume. In all honesty, this is funnier than it is tragic, but an underlying question remains unanswered. Why the hell did he swing at a mascot?
Sure, some of us have long craved taking a swing at the annoying lunacy of these costumed individuals, who misinterpret our patience for affection. Despite these urges, none of us have actually acted on these impulses because we’re sane individuals. We have enough patience to undergo some basic childish acts. Randall Simon did not have the patience; he and his short-tempered cronies now control the public image of baseball.
Some of the noted side effects of steroids are:
- Extreme irritability
- Bloated appearance
- Rapid weight gain
If you go down the list of the athletes that have shown the biggest increase in their offensive statistics, you can go down this list and check each item. Within only 10 years the sluggers have evolved from the lanky to the large. Baseball is now inundated with men that are only 6’ tall, yet all weigh well over 230 pounds. Admittedly, there were a few men with similar qualities in the early nineties. John Kruk, Kirby Puckett, Cecil Fielder to name a few, but this weight was stationed in their stomachs. The weight was apparent, and not beneficial to their physical prowess.
What does this all mean? Well, short of a full scale psychological and physical examination of every baseball player, this issue will remain mostly theoretical. The baseball union has adamantly defended their rights to continue using steroids without stating that exactly. This union can be at least partially blamed for the current deluge of financial problems surrounding baseball, and now they may be responsible for turning baseball into the next deceased sport next to heavyweight boxing.
The motivations for the players' union to be so vehement about not allowing the league to arbitrarily test their players remain a mystery. Personal privacy may hold a place when it comes to tapping phone calls, but professional athletes are continually tested for drugs in all other major sports. Part of the mystique of watching these games is to be inspired by the sheer talent of these physical celebrities. Now with the steroid question always looming, these shattered records and towering homeruns are viewed with a skeptical eye. If baseball doesn’t quickly find a way to admonish these actions, it will be writing the final chapter in its own storied history.
Obviously, the sport will never disappear completely, but the money and celebrity will at least diminish. During the years of Mike Tyson I knew the names of many heavyweight champions and contenders, now Lennox Lewis is the only recognizable name to me. Not because of any personal preference, but simply from reading the ESPN bylines. Baseball could be next, which may be a good thing considering the avarice of those involved. Fans are such fickle creatures, but if we could subside our short attention spans for a moment and prolong the dissention, then perhaps the message would get across. I miss baseball, but I can’t return to these acne ridden, angry behemoths.
The rants of a man who onced enjoyed watching the Toronto Blue Jays win back to back championships.
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