Does It Really Matter?

After a rare off day during Spring Training the Diamondbacks are back with a game against revived Slammin’ Sammy Sosa and the Texas Rangers. I will be one of the first to admit that I didn’t think there was any way that Sosa would be able to return to a point where he could be realistically considered for a roster spot. Instead he is proving me and all of his critics wrong putting on a display that is reminiscent to 1998 when he and Mark McGwire captured the hearts and minds of America as they chased Roger Maris and his magical number 61. It’s funny how time warps our reality. At the time baseball was struggling to return after the numerous work stoppages and labor troubles. Fans were staying away from the ballparks in droves and it looked as if baseball would lose its mystic and distinction as America’s Pastime. During these darkest times two men took the sport on their broad shoulders and carried them back to prominence. At the time we were so involved in the chase to 61 home runs and the sense of adventure that involved that we didn’t care about anything else. Television programs were interrupted to provide coverage of individual at-bats putting baseball on par with other monumental news stories. Usually when television programs are interrupted viewers get frustrated and angry that reality is intruding upon our diversions but in this case we didn’t mind. Even non baseball fans began talking about the game and about these two players.

As Mark McGwire moved closer and closer to breaking Roger Maris’ record that had stood for 37 years we rooted for him and we rooted for the game. At no point during this drive for greatness did anyone question the motives of the players or suggest that the playing field was no longer level. There was of course controversy when a supplement was found in McGwire’s locker. Before that time no one had ever heard of Androstenedione or “Andro” for short. We rushed to the Internet and to GNC stores to ask about the affects “Andro” might have. That would have been the perfect moment to uncover the steroids secrets of baseball. If management, coaches, players, media, and MLB all knew of the use of steroids why was it not brought up when McGwire was in the midst of the chase and supplements were found? Were all these parties blind to what was going on or did we just choose to ignore the problem because we wanted to see the outcome of the home run chase? During the past 3 years we have heard players elude to the fact that steroid and drug use was in every clubhouse and that they just chose to stay quiet rather than clean up the game. We hear coaches and general managers say they too heard rumblings of these activities yet none came forward to make baseball confront this problem and resolve it. Instead we say players cheering Sosa and McGwire on, rooting for them to break one of the most sacred records in baseball. The president of the United States kept tabs on Sosa and McGwire’s progress so that he could make congratulatory calls. The commissioner of Baseball attended games and cheered touting the positive influence these two players had on the game. Many were quoted as saying that McGwire and Sosa saved baseball and brought it back into the mainstream of average America.

Now we fast forward 9 years to today. McGwire has been retired for five years and eligible for the Hall of Fame. Sosa is attempting a return to baseball after being away from it for a year. In both cases public opinion has become as cold as the wind off Lake Michigan in April. The baseball writers that chose to ignore any wrong doing or even question the legitimacy of the 1998 home run race now are morally outraged at the idea the Mark McGwire should be considered a hall of fame candidate. It is fascinating to see how far the heroes have fallen now that it is not politically correct to recognize the magnitude of the accomplishments both on the field and off in 1998. These same people who made a living praising the skills of McGwire and Sosa are now making a living crucifying them through public opinion. I know I should be outraged if players cheated and used steroids or other enhancements. But strangely, the longer this goes on the less that matters. If Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had not come along when they did or if they had struggled to hit .240 or drive in 40 runs for their teams where would baseball be today? Perhaps the players were actually doing what was right for the game at that time. Baseball purists will complain saying that the steroid era destroys any ability to compare generations or equate players and records. Personally I think that argument holds no weight. We truthfully could not do that with or without steroids. The human body continues to evolve. Players are bigger today than they were a generation ago even without help from supplements. We know more about the body today than we did when Roger Maris played. Players have at their disposal doctors, trainers, and equipment that older players could not even imagine. I’m left with the notion that it doesn’t really matter whether players use steroids, scuff balls, throw spitters, steal signs, or any of the countless other opportunities to gain advantage. 1998 will remain a magical season and we’ll all remember where we were when Mark McGwire hit that 62 home run and those memories are the most important thing.

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