The Days When Baseball Mattered

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - April 12, 2006

I used to love the game of baseball. When I was a kid, there was nothing better than getting to Wrigley Field and settling in for an afternoon with the Chicago Cubs and the other guys. Second best were the days of Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau calling games.

The players were heroes. Ron Santo with his celebratory jump and “kicking of heels,” “Dandy” Don Kessinger with his patented jump throw to first deep from the hole at short and, of course, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks with his broad smile and “Let’s Play Two!” To me, it was the National Pastime.

I lived in the Bay Area of California for years. I took to the Oakland A’s during the days of “The Bash Brothers,” McGwire and Canseco. I cheered the A’s to the 1988 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It should have been a sweep. That is, until an injured Kirk Gibson stepped in to pinch hit in Game 1. The epic home run he hit today is the stuff of TV commercials. “David’s” Dodgers went on to an improbable World Series win over the “Goliath” Athletics and etched into the memories of sports fans one of the most enduring moments in baseball history.

Maybe it’s because I loved the game so much before that I am so disappointed now. A players’strike cancelled the 1994 World Series for only the second time in history. I remember thinking to myself, baseball as I knew it was officially gone. It came down to the players and owners loving themselves more than the game and the fans. I guess if baseball could leave me, I could leave baseball.

Whether it’s the Pete Rose betting scandal, the 1919 Black Sox or sadly, the Danny Almonte story, baseball has more bruises that Carlton Fisk behind the plate. Danny Almonte? He was the star pitcher for the Bronx Little League team who was actually 14 playing in a league for 12-year-olds. Yep, went all the way to LL World Series. Of course, all of it was stripped away and innocence among children was lost.

San Francisco Giants Opening Game 2006. It’s an away game in San Diego. During the bottom of the eighth, a syringe is tossed in the direction of Giants outfielder Barry Bonds. Everybody in the park knows what it means.

Bonds, in pursuit of The Game’s greatest record, most career home runs, has had allegations of steroid use dogging him for years. With new damaging allegations confirming his use, and in light of a Major League Baseball ban on the substance, fans are debating to whether to accept or reject Barry Bonds. Many are choosing the latter.

For me, it’s just another scandalous chapter for a game which has done its best to alienate its character, tradition and fans. Baseball ownership and league management have known about this for years and did nothing. It wasn’t until 2004 that Major League Baseball enforced a policy banning steroids. Even the World Wrestling Federation, now the WWE, implemented strict steroid policies years before the MLB.

The days in which I loved the game of baseball are long gone. I doubt I’ll ever feel the same about the game as I did before. But one thing is for certain. The Bonds saga could be a deal breaker for millions of fans. I hope baseball can recover, but I am not so sure you can buy your soul back once you’ve sold it to the devil.

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