Much has been written and reported on the current Alex Rodriguez steroids debacle. But little mention has been made of why exactly this is significant.
Hint—it really has nothing to do with the player himself or the steroids. It has everything to do with the baseball-following public.
Professional baseball has a long history of gripping the national attention for years—even decades—on end. Baseball legends tower over the legends of other sports. Baseball games themselves even stand as a male rite of passage to this day.
More than any other sport, baseball attached itself to the national identity. Granted, the U.S. baseball team may not be a juggernaut on the international stage, but we can justify that through our use of both collegiate and minor-league players.
Still, baseball players always had an air of “every man” about them. We could picture ourselves out on the diamond because we could play the sport in our own lives.
If you were to rewind to that glorious summer of 1998, during which the Cardinals' Mark McGwire and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa ignited America's passion for its pastime, you would see a nation of smiling faces.
Americans finally had something to unite over and cheer for, regardless of team or even sport loyalty. Let alone the fact that the Midwest had never seen such national attention for anything since the original 1930's Dust Bowl.
Water cooler talk consisted of the boom coming from both the economy and coming from Major League Baseball. I would challenge you to find a major sport that ever enjoyed such a season of national prominence and had such rosy expectations.
Fast-forward to the present and nothing about the MLB resembles that summer almost 11 years ago.
The formerly jovial Commissioner Bud Selig cannot be found without his permanent scowl. The sport's stars have fallen one by one over the decade. And the nation's athletic mood has suffered proportionately.
Yet the disgraced players could be placed into the past, a part of the game’s history, not its present. The American public needed a shining star to follow. Simply put, we were desperate.
So when news of A-Rod's juicing hit the public eye, it came as a final blow to the general psyche. Ever since McGwire and Sosa were exposed as frauds, baseball fans have been clinging to one single hope: Not every ballplayer is cheating, and A-Rod is the savior of the game.
Like it or not—like him or not—A-Rod was supposed to deliver the game and deliver it cleanly.
His strength was supposed to be natural, a product of an extensive weight-training program since his high school years.
His statistics were supposed to be legitimate, the result of his weight training and his God-given talent. And a note about his statistics: He was on pace to break just about every major record on the books, home runs, runs, RBI, you name it.
But it was not to be.
A-Rod’s fellow players, teammates and otherwise, have come out condemning his steroid use and expressing a general disappointment in his actions. They know just how important this one player was to the future of the game.
Yet it could be just a little too late.
The American baseball-loving public has been fooled again. Our trust has been betrayed, and we have seen our game shamed by the very player who should have saved it.
The old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
What happens when millions of people are all fooled dozens of times?
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