On Baseball

In a few short months, the cold of winter will give way to the smell of fresh cut grass. On fields in Florida and Arizona, veterans will work out the kinks of the winter break, fresh faced kids will take their hacks hoping to make the big clubs. It is a ritual performed for decades, the precursor to that magical time of year…

Baseball season.

Through my childhood and into my adult life, I have always been drawn to the sound of leather and wood making contact, to the sight of clouds of yellow-orange dirt wafting behind each step as a runner heads for second and then for third. I have always been drawn to the intense stare of the pitcher as he looks in for the sign, the first step in an unending cycle of batter versus pitcher.

To me, baseball meant spending time with friends, whether on the local fields, at school practicing our batting with something like this baseball swing trainer, playing pick-up games until the sky was too dark to track a fly ball. Playing baseball was something most kids in the area loved to do. It was a fun way to spend time with friends, or make new ones. But of course, kids are always competitive. This meant that it was almost essential to have the best baseball equipment. Whether it meant finding the best baseball bat or baseball mit, you had to purchase one to try and win the game! Of course, we weren’t always playing baseball. We would also sit in front of the television, watching our hometown Phillies go down in defeat seemingly night after night. Baseball was about tearing open the first packs of the new season’s cards, looking for the superstar players, looking for the hot new rookies, flipping over the cardboard to read the stats, to memorize the stats. For some, this turned into a lifetime hobby, and now have assumed a vast collection of cards, even going to the effort of checking out reviews for sites like Layton card breaks to see if they would be a good one to take a chance on in the hope of getting closer to completing a set.

Baseball to me was about spending time with my dad (it still is), watching world series games with no rooting interest, just for the sheer joy of the poetry of the game; the epic battles of my youth, Eckersly versus Gibson, Smoltz versus Morris, Puckett versus gravity and the center field wall.

Then something changed, our hometown Phillies were no longer losers, they were headed into the play-offs, on the back of Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and Mitch Williams, the lovable group of losers, the gritty ballplayers who weren’t afraid to slide head first, to throw one high and inside, weren’t afraid to get dirty while playing.

And now, with the release of the Mitchell report, we find that getting dirty and playing dirty seemingly went hand in hand. Lenny Dykstra was prominently named in the report. Back in 1993, we suspected he was juiced, but now, it is all but proven.

And now, fourteen seasons later, thousands of ball players have come and gone and one cannot help but wonder; were they juiced too?

Are the allegations against Roger Clemens true? Have our modern records all been tainted? Did a Yankees dynasty ride a needle into the post season? Can we ever trust the game again?

It is this last question that I find myself struggling with these days. Can I trust a game that I have loved for so long? When the players take the field this spring, will I be rooting for my team the same way I had in the past? How do I trust that they are not cheating too, and just haven’t been caught yet?

Am I na├»ve for hoping that the game had not been tainted as much as had been feared? I don’t know.

Baseball has been a part of America for generations, reflecting the best and the worst of our society. Today, it has fallen back to the broken reflection of America. At a time when our nation needs heroes, our heroes on the field may well be frauds.

Like America, it will take some time for the game to heal, to regain the trust of the fans.

Here’s to hoping that day comes soon.



Skip to comment form

  1. but cleanly this time…

    • oculus on December 18, 2007 at 22:16

    I’m not stopping now.  Sammy Sosa played w/a corked bat and Goose Gossage got in the Hall of Fame despite doctoring the ball.  Its always something.  

  2. Bonds and Clemens, the home run king and arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, both tainted. Of course we already knew about Bonds and there were whispers about Clemens, but seeing it in black and white in the report, with all the gory details and with the avalanche of additional (big) names, brought an air of finality to the whole thing. Maybe that’s unfair, since some of the cases in the report are based only on testimony and don’t have, for example, the canceled checks that support the others, but that’s still how it feels.

    You’re right, the question will always be how many never got named and how many of the great seasons were drug-aided. Baseball isn’t as bad off as some other sports (cycling) but this is another hole to climb out of like the strike was. Hopefully the solution this time doesn’t turn into a future problem.

    You say Baseball has been a part of America for generations, reflecting the best and the worst of our society and indeed the game has struggled with the same issues, from racism to workers rights to addictions, and now to performance-enhancing drugs, that impact sports in general and even our wider society. That’s a strength of the game, really, gives it relevance, and so I’m trusting that this chapter will enter the history books and, just like the other imperfect chapters, show a bit of who we were and what we were trying to overcome.

    (Really, we need to have a larger conversation about what we expect athletes to be, what role we demand they fill, and how we permit them to live up to our lofty goals.)

  3. The Bronx is Burning?

    Absolutely terrific mini-series, based on the book with the same name, about the ’77 New York Yankees and the hunt for the Son of Sam.

    I absolutely loved it.  John Turturro played volatile Yankee manager Billy Martin perfectly.  It was all about the ongoing tension between Martin, right-fielder Reggie Jackson, team-owner George Steinbrenner, and doomed catcher Thurmon Munson, during a year that saw the Yanks beat the Dodgers in the World Series and Jackson hit 3 home runs in a single series game.

    Great stuff.

  4. Baseball is a great game, andI follow it also. So there are some abusers. Before the steroid scandal the Yankees still existed… they were my nemesis for years.

    Still are, y’all (just kidding)

Comments have been disabled.