Friday, April 08, 2005

Death of a national pastime

As the drum beats signaling the passing of time and as the wind whips at 40mph outside my deck the unmistakable hallmark of spring is upon us.

Monday, April 4 marked the first full slate of games in Major League Baseball’s 2005 campaign. The crack of the bat, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs, and the tall cold beer in hand have for over one hundred years ushered in the dawning of spring and all the rights of passage that accompany the change of seasons.

The 2004 season was like none we’ve ever experienced. The Red Sox purged of the Curse of the Bambino. Barry Bonds is within breathing distance of the most glorified record in sports. That is if he ever plays again. Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson are in their 40’s and are still the best pitchers in baseball. Ichiro Suzuki broke the record for hits in a season last year.

Optimism blooms in the nation’s ball parks in early April as baseball fans hope it is going to be another magical summer.

Yet a cloud looms over the national pastime. The steroids scandal now threatens to unravel and destroy whatever credibility and fan support baseball has regained since the work stoppage in ’94.

And the powers that be sit like so many Nero’s on their golden thrones while Rome continues to burn. Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, et al are mere empty shirts as the sport I loved as a kid continues its dysfunctional march towards the abyss and the oblivion that is sure to follow.

The recently OK’d steroids policy is largely a joke and akin to putting a Band-Aid on an abdominal gun-shot wound. What more does baseball need? How many Jason Giambi’s have to come forward? How many more Ken Camaniti’s have to die? Yes, 30 minor leaguers have been busted along with a major league bench warmer but until the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, or Jason Giambi are caught, suspended, and perhaps kicked out of baseball, the current policy will remain a toothless, hollow piece of regulation.

I remember playing baseball in high school and during practice in ’87 trying to recreate the infamous Mets’ ninth inning comeback in game 6 of the ’86 World Series. I was Mookie Wilson diving out of the way of a wild pitch. Mike was Bill Buckner letting a little roller pass between the wickets behind first base and Charlie had the envious part of Ray Knight dancing to pay dirt as the rest of the Mets mobbed him at home plate.

That’s the baseball I remember. Grown men playing a kids game and providing me with one of my most cherished memories from childhood. And that’s the game that was stolen from me. And for that I will never forgive them.