Can Baseball Recover From ’Roids?

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - December 19, 2007

One thing I remember about going to my first professional baseball game was just how green the ball field was. Wrigley Field rests in a Chicago neighborhood of apartment buildings, shops and some of the best bars in the world. The structure itself is historic.

Once inside, Wrigley is a catacomb of gray steel ramps and stairs. When I was there last, just about 30 years ago, I remember the motif to have more in common with a battleship than a baseball stadium. But, when you turn the corner and walk to the end of the tunnel leading to the seats, that green field leaps right into your eyes. It’s all about the contrast. The dinginess of the insides of Wrigley and the verdant field below combine like the taste of sweet and sour - a delicious collision.

I loved baseball as a kid. The Cubs was my team. I was fortunate to have won the Phillips 66 Pitch, Hit and Throw competition when I was 9. I could name the lineup of the heartbreaking 1969 Cubbies and I wanted to be Ernie Banks when I grew up.

Well, my heart is breaking again as I watch this once great sport - our national pastime - bleed to death. The Mitchell Report on steroid use in Major League Baseball and the names named within has revealed the greatest scandal the sport has seen since Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox of 1919.

I don’t need to get into the details of the story because I am sure you have heard the reports over and over again. The description of syringes and needles used to inject substances with too many vowels into the okoles of baseball stars bordered on TMI (too much information). Steroid use in baseball became the butt (pun somewhat intended) of late-night comedian jokes.

But although there may be some fatigue of hearing about steroid and other banned substances used in baseball, the fact remains the future of this once grand game is seriously in question.

It’s not as if baseball didn’t have issues already. The players’ strike of 1994 still stings fans today. And the competition for the public’s attention and dollar has never been more fierce. NASCAR is the most attended sport in America. The NFL delivers the most exciting game on the field. The NBA is still benefiting from the Jordan era. In comparison, the most-watched sporting event (outside of World Cup Soccer on a global scale) is the Super Bowl. One of the least-watched finales in major professional sport is the World Series.

A critical element for baseball’s future is the generational love of the game. The most ardent supporters of the game are aging and there is a diminished interest and participation by youth. I grew up knowing the greatness of Willie Mays, Tom Seaver and Reggie Jackson. Kids today are treated to player walkouts and illegal drug use. Even if there is an icon like McGwire, Canseco or Bonds, the question of their success fueled by steroids is a profound blemish.

In light of the Mitchell Report, the salient point is what’s next for professional baseball. From a legal standpoint, this report is not the end. A congressional investigation is scheduled for Feb. 23, 2008 - as teams report for spring training -based on the findings of this report.

Unfortunately for baseball, any success or accomplishment by any player will always have the taint of illegal drug use. Whether that player used or not, it will always be out there.

From a fan standpoint, this is about the worst thing that could ever happen. Why? There is no other sport where statistics define history. Batting averages, home runs hit, ERAs, etc. are what matter most in debating the best of the best. Barry Bonds, with his alleged use and lying to investigators, has already tarnished one of the greatest statistics in sports. Should he hold the home run record? Should there be an asterisk? Should his effort be banned? The Mitchell Report lambastes Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the game. The seven-time Cy Young Award-winner has been singled out as a prime example of a steroid abuser.

Should his numbers count? Should he be eligible for the Hall of Fame?

I wonder what Pete Rose is thinking?

I truly hope baseball will be able to recover from this scandalous chapter and, given time, maybe we will. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll see that day of redemption.

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