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Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017

For Love of the Game

Posted Friday, April 6, 2007, at 12:15 PM

As a long-time baseball fan, I want to remember some of the sport's better moments.

Mark McGwire's then record-setting 70th home run in 1998. Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter in 1991. Cal Ripken's untouchable consecutive games streak from 1981 to 2001. George Brett joining the 3,000 hit club in 1992. These, and countless other memorable moments are what, in my opinion, baseball should best be remembered for.

Not the many steroid scandals that have cropped up in the past few years, or the bloated player salaries, or the players strike that nearly -- and for some people, it did -- crush baseball back in 1994.

Not the constant debate between players and owners, not the Pete Rose gambling debacle in the late 1980s, and not the vast difference in team payroll these days between high-profile teams like the New York Yankees ($200 million) and lower spending teams such as the Florida Marlins ($15 million), who by the way, won two World Series titles in 1997 and 2003.

Even if it's just for a moment, but hopefully longer, I would like to remember heading out to the ballpark to watch my favorite team play. I like to remember hearing the roar of the crowd, the thrill of high-fiving your friends sitting next to you when your team scores the winning run, and the smell of peanuts, hot dogs, and fresh cut grass.

These days, as the father of a young son, I eventually look forward to remembering the times I took him out to the ballpark, showing him what the bullpen is, how to fill out a scorecard, and watching the hitters take batting practice. I want to take him down to the dugout to hopefully nab a player's autograph, or be standing next to him when he catches that foul ball that flies our direction.

For me, America's favorite pastime was indeed my favorite sport. To this day, I'm not quite sure what its allure was exactly. Was it the psychological battle that often occurred between the pitcher and the batter? Was it the excitement of hitting a whiffle ball over a fence in the neighborhood with my young buddies when we were growing up? Or was it something else entirely? Had this game simply gripped me and would not let go? It's quite possible.

Now, don't get me wrong. I was saddened and upset when the players strike happened in 1994, causing a huge rift in baseball that lingered in the air for the next four years, when McGwire and fellow slugger Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris's single season home run record of 61 home runs.

Both men would eventually pass Maris's mark, and they were mainly responsible for bringing back the magic of the sport that once existed for me and millions of other baseball fans.

Since that time, McGwire's seemingly unbreakable record was surpassed by slugger Barry Bonds in 2001, when Bonds smashed a record 73 home runs. The last few years have not been ideal for baseball, as Bonds, McGwire and other major hitters would undergo investigations into the use of steroids and other performance enhancing substances.

Not long after the magic of the 1998 season had dissipated, baseball was being tainted again with scandal and even more tension and unrest between players and owners, who continued to debate the players' long-term multi-million dollar contracts.

I'm not saying this made me happy, because it didn't.

I don't want to see professional athletes, who are supposed to be role models for children, making huge sums of money to play a game. That just doesn't seem right.

I don't condone the use of illegal substances in sports, since many people, including myself, consider it to be cheating or using an unfair advantage. But when I think about it, if you nab one player (such as Bonds, who has headlined many news stories on the subject of steroids lately), you have to nab them all. And when you do, what do you do then?

Do you take their lifetime statistics away? If that's the case, how far do you go back, because you'd have to get guys from years ago, wouldn't you? What do you do with these guys? Ban them from baseball for life? Give them a slap on the wrist and tell them not to do it again?

This would not make many people happy.

What I suggest, for baseball fans anyway, is to sit back and enjoy the game, and remember why you enjoy it in the first place.

Players who use steroids or other performance enhancing substances will most likely pay for it sometime down the road anyway. But that's their choice. They are adults; let them take the risk with their own lives. We, as fans, simply want to enjoy our favorite athletes playing a beloved game.

A more ideal solution would be to have certain substances banned from use in professional sports, which has already happened in many sports, and to make players take frequent drug tests. If they fail, impose a penalty or fine that is increasingly worse with each offense. Major League Baseball has tried to do this, but their plan has taken a lot of criticism from many sports experts and analysts in that the penalties are not stringent enough for wealthy athletes.

Finally, I want to mention parity in professional sports, and the idea that not that long ago, many people thought the Yankees, with their excessive payroll, would continue to be a dynasty for years, especially after winning four World Series titles in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The Yankees would keep winning, while lowly teams with mediocre or below average payrolls would continue to try, but fail, in their quest to be world champions. No one would even give a team without a single superstar on their roster a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, pro football, basketball, and even hockey players also made huge salaries, but team dynasties were basically prevented because those sports maintained salary caps that kept the teams within the leagues more competitive. Unlike baseball, teams wouldn't win championships year after year and dominate their sport, making it much less interesting to watch.

On that note, the New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the last seven years, while the Yankees, who did win four World Series titles in the 1990s and despite the team's massive payroll, have not won a single one.

Instead, a different MLB team has won the World Series each year since that time, including some teams that many experts predicted had no chance of winning.

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If You Ask Me
Jason Silvers
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