CD's Connect the Dots...Treading Hallowed Grounds

Did you hear the news this week out of the general managers meetings? A POTENTIAL BLOCKBUSTER TRADE INVOLVING A-ROD AND GARCIAPARRA?! THE YANKEES PURSUIT OF ALMOST EVERY BIG NAME PLAYER AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY! THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS-MINNESOTA TWINS TRADE! major league baseball announced that 7% of its players tested positive for steroids last spring. THE PHILLIES PLANS TO BOLSTER THEIR PITCHING!

If the announcement about the steroids testing results might have been small print material, you can be sure that Major League Baseball wanted it that way. In fact, pardon my skeptical mind that believes baseball planned the announcement for hoopla week because true fans would be so interested in their favorite teams latest trade rumors and free agent signings that they might ho hum the whole episode.

If this is baseball's profound hope, I believe they are in for a rude awakening. Baseball fans across the country, long known for their patience and understanding when it concerns the travails of major league ball players, may have just hit the proverbial wall when it came to this announcement.

Truth be told - this speaks to the very core of honesty and integrity, two terms that have long been associated with the word sport. Think otherwise? As many readers are aware, I have been a teacher for many years and if it were ever discovered that 7% of my students were cheating on a test I would be ashamed… for them, and as well as for me!

Baseball has a problem, and no amount of hiding their heads in the sand will remove this predicament. Only swift and immediate action will solve it. Unfortunately, as always, baseball continues to finish a poor fourth when its current drug and steroid policy are placed next to the policies of professional basketball, football and hockey.

Many people might say… 7%, that doesn't sound so bad. After all, probably 7% in almost any profession cheat and knowingly break the rules. Careful thought will quickly put this theory to rest. Think about this… the players had been warned several months in advance about this test. They knew when the test would be administered. They had a minimum of four months to clean their bodies of steroid substances.

Yet, 7% still failed the test. A logical mind can easily deduct that if that many players failed, how many others got clean, passed the test, then went back to their "juiced up" ways? Twice as many, three times as many? Remember, the magic number was that 84 players failed the test. Nearly three players a team. That's three players a team too many!

No sport touches the human soul like baseball. Football has its place, and basketball is a wonderful diversion during the winter months. Yet those sports are mere preludes to baseball season, they are the previews before the main event.

The beauty of baseball is its history, its numbers, and its consistent run, like the Mississippi River flowing down to the Gulf of Mexico. In baseball, numbers matter, statistics count. Huh, you say? Say 60 home runs and every baseball fan know its Babe Ruth. Number 24 was Willie Mays, Number 7 was Mickey Mantle. The number 755 means something in baseball, the career home run total of Hank Aaron.

Those numbers are like hallowed ground because baseball reaches to the depths of our essence. Baseball is a distinctly American game, with distinctly American rules. Only baseball has no clock among team games, only baseball starts with the proposition that the defense has the ball!

And now steroids and their infestation into the game are trying the very patience and trust of fans to the core. How can we be sure that home run champions or strike out artists are competing fairly with the players they are outdistancing? How can the players who do follow the rules be encouraged to continue to play fairly when they know they will be put at such a disadvantage? The simple answer is… they can't!

Make no mistake where I stand on this issue. Players using steroids are cheating and should be disciplined. Not hand slap, "shame on you but we won't tell," punished. Fines and suspensions will never be enough without acknowledgement of the crime… very public acknowledgement. Players should be made to be responsible for their actions, as these actions harm not just themselves, but their teammates, opponents, the fans – in short, the baseball sports world!

No doubt, the argument against this will be that athletes didn't knowingly take steroids; they thought they were only taking vitamin supplements. While acknowledging the possibility, albeit slim, remember one thing about athletes; to them the body is the temple. Like the pen is to Shakespeare, and the canvas is to Picasso.

No further proof is needed on this issue than to watch a major league hitter who has been brushed back by a fastball… or worse yet, hit by a pitch. For every one who drops his bat and jogs to first base, five will at the very least glare and snarl at the pitcher, or at the worst, attack the pitcher. The batter feels his body, the very tool needed to perform well, is being threatened. It is difficult to imagine that a professional athlete would ever take a foreign substance into the body without a clear understanding of just what that substance would do.

Baseball's queasy feeling about this issue is certainly understandable. When Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961 to break Babe Ruth's record of 60, Major League baseball was quick to claim it was done in a longer season. The word asterisk became part of baseball vocabulary as a reminder that the record was "tainted." Although the asterisk has since been removed, baseball showed its concern for the legacy of its history…. and records.

One can only speculate on the dilemma baseball would be faced with if many of the recent records were proven to be "tainted." Asterisks would become more prevalent in the record books than seagulls by a fishing boat, if this happened. Major league baseball has a major problem that will not go away simply by smiling and inviting everyone to stand up and sing Kumbaya.

Only solid leadership and a desire to place the integrity of the game above all else will solve the problem. Until then, the whispers, innuendos and half-truths will continue to filter out of the locker room.

Until then - the temptation to cheat will increase with each multi-million dollar contract offered to a guy who suddenly transformed himself from Barney Fife into Andre the Giant. And baseball will continue to tread on hallowed grounds.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast.


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