There have been plenty of dark moments in the great game of baseball and yet American's love for it has never changed. Our pure and innocent desire to go to the ball park and see a good game does not wither. Baseball has been a healing tool (such as in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) and it is looked at as a symbol of America. In baseball, there are a million metaphors for life. Could anything occur that would actually put such a mark on the sport and it's participants that would make us question our devotion to the game and our baseball heroes? As the drama of Steroidgate continues to unfold we are asking ourselves many questions as baseball fans and wondering if things are changed - or need to be changed - forever.
There are few who are surprised by Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi's admission that he used steroids on a number of occasions but it does not take away the sting of our worst fears being confirmed. It is something fans of the game would ever deny; there are players who have done it and there are players who are still doing it. But at times it all seemed to border on a witch hunt. There was a general pointing of fingers; a suspicion of players who we thought might fit the bill. There was no affirmations for the most part, just whispers of things that were apparently going on behind closed doors.
In 1998, Mark McGwire hit a record 70 homeruns while using the supplement androstenedione, a steroid precursor. This year Senator Joe Biden of Delaware made his intentions very clear in regards to this drug and THG. He is sponsoring legislation that would ban these particular drugs but remarked that his main concern was the "profound effect" it would have on kids. The kids who, of course, look up with innocent awe at athletes and want to be just like them. Biden also wants to see more frequent testing of athletes and stronger penalties than the current system allows for those who test positive. Last year five to seven percent of players tested positive for steroids in tests that they were aware were going to be administered. However, a player does not face suspension until the fifth offense. Biden believes, as many do, that the consequences have got to be tougher so that the players will be left with no other choice than to comply. It does leave one to wonder if baseball were run like football in this area how different things would be. When a football player tests positive for any banned substance they are immediately suspended. For me, the issue is punishment. If the punishment is not severe, what initiative do baseball players have to not partake in these practices? That is certainly where baseball commissioner Bud Selig comes in.
What we cannot do is talk in terms of stripping player's titles and devaluing their entire careers. That would be beyond the realm of what is sensible or fair. In 2002 in a Sports Illustrated cover story, the late Ken Caminiti admitted to using steroids causing a firestorm of speculation and concern. Caminiti, who was National League MVP in 1996, was candid about the fact that steroid use had become rampant at that point and that he would now discourage players from using these methods. How could Major League Baseball allow steroid use to become rampant? Total lack of punishment; it is that simple. To say that these players should have their careers stolen from them when the system they operated under gave them a great deal of freedom to commit these acts would be utterly hypocritical. Part of me doesn't even trust that the MLB wanted to give up the advantages that steroids brought them when upon Caminiti's admission Bud Selig did little more than blink. He spoke of the need to test and that he felt "strongly about that" but we now know that it has been little more than a smokescreen platform presented to the American public. If Selig is serious this time around he has got to be vigilant and unforgiving. There must be a standard set now and for the future. But I will repeat: There is nothing to be done about the past. No one should be stripped of anything.
The saddest part of it is how so many careers will be viewed. People will now put a mental asterisk over a player's name when thinking of them. One of those people is Barry Bonds. As far as Bonds goes, first of all, he has hand and eye coordination at the plate that is second to none and no amount of steroids has anything to do with that kind of talent. And second, the same rules apply to him that apply to all in this situation. Whatever he might have done, he must not be allowed to do again. He apparently has pleaded ignorance about what he was taking but most find that hard to believe. But do not look at him and all he has accomplished and bow your head in disappointment. If he did turn to these methods he did what was allowed and if you don't believe that, you have got to look at the lenient rules that the MLB has applied to this situation over the years. I also just have a personal opinion that it is going over board to say that what he has accomplished offensively is solely due to enhancement drugs. I think that would be an overstatement.
But what we have now, appears to be a veil of darkness over the game for many fans though I have to say I don't believe fans will turn their backs come baseball season. They will still show up and cheer the same as they ever did. There is something so sacred about baseball that does make these revelations far more painful than it would be in any other sport. Tom Boswell once said that "Baseball is religion without the mischief," and we want to put our faith in that. Baseball is religion but like religion it has its basic flaws. Baseball, like life, is not perfect and you will always have mischief. Now is simply the time to set a new standard by which these players must live by or pay the price.
And one final note: Some chicks, like me, dig the fair ball more than the long ball. No true baseball fan would see it any other way.