Will We Ever Trust Baseball Again?
When I was eight years old, my father brought me to the now-defunct Shea Stadium to watch the Mets play the San Francisco Giants. Despite my allegiance to New York sports teams, I didn't care about any of the nine players the Mets fielded. Only one person on that diamond commanded my attention: Barry Bonds.
Bonds was chasing Mark McGwire's single-season record of 70 home runs, and though I felt compelled to join in with the jeering crowd every time Bonds stepped to the plate, I secretly wanted him to launch one deep that night. He did. Fans of the game become attached to the stars of their era, and Bonds was the big player for me. When Bonds was accused of taking performance enhancing drugs two years later, I was crushed.
As the string of steroid scandals has grown longer by the season, I've stopped taking each one so personally. The revelations about Bonds and McGwire hurt viscerally, but in 2009, when Alex Rodriguez held a press conference to admit to steroid use, I was desensitized to the announcement, even though it was compelling news. When A-Rod, Ryan Braun, and 11 other active players were suspended Monday, I quickly glimpsed over the list and moved on. It's become pretty hard for me to follow baseball now.
How do we continue supporting MLB in the wake of Monday's suspensions? How do we rehash World Series winners and memorable extra-inning games without also remembering that each one comes with an asterisk? A sport that carries 40-player rosters is inherently interconnected; we can't just point to the dozen or so names of admitted steroid users. This whole era, in some way or another, has been tainted.
How do we go forward? Although the suspensions have finally been released, baseball is far from free of the Biogenesis scandal. Rodriguez's appeal could linger for months, and who knows what else Tony Bosch could release by the end of the season? Baseball is going to be a steroid-infused game for a bit, and we have to find a way to accept that if we want to remain fans.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that every sport has its far-reaching scandals. Brian Cushing and Shawne Merriman are just two recent NFL players to be suspended for performance-enhancing drugs; even stars like Ray Lewis have been accused of using. The NBA has overcome multiple referee scandals, which had a far more tangible impact on the sport than the steroid problem did with baseball. While baseball's scandal appears bigger, and has even involved congressional oversight, MLB is not the only pro league that warrants skepticism right now.
Baseball may seem tainted, but many of its players are not. For every disheartening headline, there's an ascending talent like Mike Trout, who, by all accounts, is playing baseball the way it is meant to be played. If we don't adopt a policy of guilty until proven innocent — which, I admit, is tough at the moment — we can enjoy the resurgence of Jose Bautista or Chris Davis. The past seems rigged, but the future still has plenty of worthy promises. Supporting the players who haven't been implicated is the first step toward making the future more important than the past.
Above all, baseball is still a simple sport. You can argue that it's no longer America's pastime, and I'd probably agree with you. But while MLB has been fundamentally changed by the steroid era, 21st-century amusement has not. Social media just hasn't influenced baseball the way it has football and basketball. Most MLB ballparks have small Jumbotrons compared to NBA arenas and NFL stadiums, and baseball continues to offer both a healthy dose of traditionalism, and a lack of cheerleaders, celebratory dances, and other distractions. Even at the height of the steroid age, baseball was never the kind of entertainment behemoth that other pro sports are. It's still a simple game, and it's something worth following for those who remain attached to it.
Baseball will eventually earn our trust back. But a sport that spawns more folk heroes than flashy superstars can't fall out of favor for too long. If we strip away the media hype and understand that there's a lot to still salvage, those 13 suspended players will be outweighed by something much bigger.