The fans enter the stadium, their eyes wide with awe as they absorb the
sensations around them. The baseball field spreads before them, the lush green
grass holding memories of seasons passed. The air is heavy with the smells of
hot dogs and popcorn. As the players warm up, cheers cascade in from everywhere,
as if riding the white crests of waves breaking on the shoreline.
America’s pastime has returned for another season.
But soon after the umpire yells "Play Ball!" the serene atmosphere
becomes intense with the taunts of spectators. So much emphasis is put on one
game that the batter thinks one swing (or lack thereof) will seal his fate for
the rest of the season.
Six months, 50 home runs, and 120 RBIs later, his team wins the World Series.
He signs a record-breaking multiyear contract with the franchise and is the
league MVP. He can’t believe his luck, considering what a no-name he was going
into Spring Training.
But a few seasons later, this same player is becoming old news. His last two
years have been mediocre at best, and he spends most of his time as a
benchwarmer. The only thing keeping him around is lack of a decent trade deal.
So one day, he returns to the clubhouse after making out and quickly observes
his surroundings. Sure that he is alone, he pops a pill, injects himself, or
applies a topical ointment. It seems to invigorate him; he proceeds to homer in
two consecutive at-bats. And that is just the beginning of his re-emergence as
This story describes a figment of my imagination. But it may ring true for
many professional baseball players. The downside of steroids seems to get lost
in the potential for outdoing everyone, winning awards, and gaining publicity.
And as long as money talks louder than a player’s conscience, efforts to win a
large contract also come before staying healthy.
Pete Rose was banned from baseball for gambling. A big fuss was made about
George Brett and the Pine Tar Incident. And when it was revealed that Sammy Sosa’s
success may be due to a cork-filled bat (and not Flintstones vitamins, as he
claimed for a long time), the uproar echoed throughout the MLB.
But if actions really speak louder than words, it appears safe to say that
Major-League officials aren’t exactly discouraging steroid use. Barry Bonds’
trainer, Greg Anderson, has repeatedly been cited as a source for steroids, most
recently by Jason Giambi. Yet he seems to continue avoiding justice, and Bonds
maintains his innocence, insisting that he was ignorant as to the real purpose
of medications supplied by Anderson.
What has happened to America’s pastime? Major-League games have avoided
being characterized by time limits, cheerleaders, and extravagant halftime
shows, the lack of these things contributing to baseball’s popularity. But as
long as steroid use continues to tarnish records and prompt ever-increasing
salaries, baseball will continue to lose fans to sports that take substance
abuse seriously. And the people that suffer the most are not athletes or MLB
officials, but the fans that support them.
Steroids have been batting 1.000 for too long. If Major-League officials
really care about fans, it’s time to learn a new pitch. Players must know that
they will be held responsible for their actions. Because as long as the MLB
continues running out of the baseline, the chalk will soon be so smeared that
all sense of direction will be lost forever. And that may be one mistake that no
amount of money can fix.