Some analysts want us to return to the days when baseball was about standings and box scores. Make no mistake, I can agree with them on that point. The issue is how we get back to the days when baseball was about baseball..
The point is that some in the sport want us to just go back to talking about the on-the-field product, instead of getting sidetracked every time an outfielder shows up in mid-February looking like a WWE wrestler.
It reminds me of a discussion I had three years ago with someone close to me. We were discussing the world’s events, and she said, “I miss the days when all Washington talked about was sex scandals.”
It was a simplification. The problem is talking about something that’s easier to deal with won’t make the big problems go away. In baseball, I get the impression some media members would rather ignore the issue altogether. I’m not the only one here with that suspicion.
Sunday night, ESPN’s Peter Gammons made a comment about how Sammy Sosa has never failed a drug test. I think Gammons was implying we should stop asking questions as fans, give all players the benefit of the doubt, and move on. He should know it’s not that simple.
Some want us to ease off baseball, trust that the steroid issue will be taken care of, and keep buying tickets. They want us to trust the sport again. Trust has to be earned, and no sport has betrayed its fans more in the last decade and a half than baseball.
Through two World Wars, a depression, and constant change in the country, there was always a World Series. In more than 90 years, the World Series was cancelled once – in 1904. Then came The Strike. As it turned out, it wasn’t world conflict or social unrest that canceled a Fall Classic. In 1994, it was pure greed. No need to rehash the sorry affair. Just know, many fans deserted the sport when it finally got around to playing again.
Four years later, MLB had finally turned the corner in winning back trust. Mark McGwire and Sosa’s assault on Roger Maris’ single-season home run record revived interest in the game. McGwire’s 62nd homer of the 1998 season is a moment I won’t forget. Soon, Commissioner Bud Selig was bragging about a “renaissance” in baseball. I never bought into that, but some people did.
Seven years later, baseball’s once untouchable sluggers were sitting before congress. McGwire refused to answer questions about his possible steroid use. Sosa seemingly forgot how to speak English. Orioles slugger Rafeal Palmero wagged his finger and denied any drug use—then failed a test a few months later. Over the next several months, books came out that alleged there was a major drug problem in baseball, and that many of the drugs in use were difficult to detect. Since the sport had no performance-enhancing drug testing program during the 90s, it became difficult to have any idea which stars from that period used. The end result: everyone was under suspicion.
Baseball hasn’t exactly been great in other areas of the game over the last 15 years: revenue disparity between teams, an All-Star game ending in a tie; television deals made to exclude thousands of fans. All of that is nitpicking. Nearly 10 years ago, fans stood and cheered McGwire and Sosa like national treasures. Now, many of us feel swindled by the game we love.
Now, even with testing in place, fans have every right to be skeptical. As long as some in the game wish to look past the obvious, there will always be a problem. As long as there’s a problem, there will be a lack of trust. Fans don’t want to be fooled again.