Thursday, February 12, 2009

We Cheat to Win and Wonder Why

I tell you, this whole scandal with A-Rod and Steroids and other things is starting to bring a little reality to the game of baseball. Why are many folks disturbed by this? We know cheating has been a part of the game as long as there was a game. Granted, we now deal with legally banned substances, inasmuch as the products used are not only illegal in baseball, they're illegal in society at large!

Nevertheless, I think the onus is on Bud Selig. I've been saying this forever, but if you don't enforce anything, things are not going to correct themselves. Don't try to tell me Selig never knew all of these things were going down. I'm pretty sure this is the case, but let's face it, I get the impression that Bud Selig is a puppet of the ownership group and owners could care less what gets tarnished in the record books.

That brings up another point. Why do we care so much about these records? Do we ever get all upset when some hot-shot sets the "youngest to 20,000 points" or "most Assists in a season" mark? Did anyone start throwing ceremonies for Tom Brady when he set the mark for most Touchdown Passes in a season? Seriously, why did baseball single itself out as a venue to write big novels about silly statistics.

I love statistics. Stats make my day and help me evaluate talent. However I don't value them so much that I'll be telling tall tales to kids about how "The Great Alex Rodriguez set x, y, and z mark".

I'll be honest. I was really mesmerized when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were setting new home run records in 1998. BUT, years after it happened (McGwire's 62) I realized "boy what was the big deal about that?" I loved the nature of McGwire's moon shots, but then when I saw Cesar Izturis hit opposite field home runs or Brett Boone lifting balls into the upper deck, I realized how relatively unimpressive home runs were.

I'll be honest again. I don't think I'd be following baseball full time if it weren't for that home run chase. I'd be fooling myself if the chase didn't drive us back to the game. That it was driven by foreign substances is unfortunate, but you know what? I can live with it. It's just a sport, and as good as it got, home runs really became a joke entering the 2000s.

A guy by the name of Ben Maller (awful sports host but interesting guy) was on the radio one day in 2000 and he was talking about how great it was to see the myriad of home runs lately. Maller said something like "I used to remember when I was a kid you'd have to wait forever to see a home run, and now it's great because there's home runs all the time." Maller thought it was cool to relax and soak in the fun.

Then it got out of hand. When the skinniest guy on the team, Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs in 2001 after not sniffing 35 in any other season of his career, we knew something was up. Something was up when in 2000, Major League Baseball teams combined to hit 5,693 homers, the most home runs in its entire history, and not by a little.

GRANTED, its important to note that from 1998 on, Baseball expanded to 30 teams... so automatically one can expect more home runs because there are more games.. Still, observe the peak at that point and compare to 2007: 4,957 HRs. That is over 700 fewer home runs accross the board. Something was up all right, but it took way too long to take action.

Finally the Mitchell Report was released. Cold hard facts, which took down the abusers like how Richie Roberts brought the Lucas Empire to its knees (Frank, not George Lucas). Now it seems like baseball is much less of a slugfest, but also a more three dimensional experience.

Then again, I think if there's anyone that we should blame, it's ourselves. We were too naive to simply accept the increased power as fact. BUT, with that said, it's better late than never, and seeing home runs become more of an event than a formality is a good thing.

The game is now, once again, a game.

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