The other day, I was out enjoying the first real day of spring weather and discussing sports with some of my friends.
We usually have the casual talk of the current issues concerning teams and athletes. But on that day, somehow we began to chat about the perceptions of baseball and football in America.
Now to me, this was a no brainer. Baseball has been my favorite sport for many years now. Not only because it is a 162 game grind in which teams can overcome injuries throughout the season but also because the fact that there are so many games allows teams to just play every day and make every game a new start.
You also get to follow this team for about six months, and the group grows on you more and more as the days go by.
At the beginning of the season, you might not know your all middle relievers. But come September, you know which gunslingers from the bullpen blew your season.
Baseball is a not just a process of X’s and O’s. It is a marathon and that is why I always believed it to be the penultimate in sports.
All my life, I have known baseball as America’s Pastime, the sport with the greatest legacy, with names like Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, and Williams echoing from all corners of the states.
There has been no debate regarding how much history the game has, as Michael Kay likes to say about his Yankees “the winningest franchise in all of sports.” Through the years our country has seen the 86-year curse of the Red Sox and how it was broken, as they took eight games in a row after being down 3-0 to their chief rival the Yankees.
Many presidents have served during this now, almost century-long, gloom of the Cubs. Number 42 sits in not only in baseball stadiums but in some football and basketball ones as well.
Baseball is a tradition, and for many years it held true to that.
But now, among the steroid era, the game has lost some of its legendary power as records have become tainted, and a whole generation of players will be overshadowed by performance enhancing drugs (PED’s).
Barry Bonds, one of the games greatest players with or without PED’s, sits in free agency waiting for a team to give him the slightest glance. He is like the big and tasty lobster at the dinner party when you are allergic to seafood.
It’s not that you will not be savoring each bite, because it’s the price you will have to pay while you are. If any team signs Bonds, they will be bringing Barnum and Bailey in with him too, for the media circus will be following his every move and constantly interrogating him regarding his legal battles.
Baseball has been unable to shake this tainted image that the steroid era has thrust upon it.
Despite efforts to “clean up” the game, another player was caught using PED’s this week: Jordan Schafer, one of the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves’ organization was caught using Human Growth Hormones.
As MLB tries to continue this cleansing process, each new “cheater” will lead questions to whether the whole league is “juicing”.
How is it that the great game of baseball has fallen so far in the last few years? How is the NFL able to push past their caught PED abusers and criminals but MLB is not?
Shawn Merriman, who was caught using steroids, was suspended four games at the beginning of the season. Yet midway through the season it was just a distant memory as he piled up sack after sack.
And at the end of the year, he was on ESPN as an analyst for NFL Live, as if he had never broken any rules or regulations. Can any of us imagine Clemens sitting down with Karl Ravech and the guys of Baseball Tonight anytime soon?
Just a couple days ago, I was partaking in my daily ritual of reading espn.com when I came across an article on Michael Vick and his time in jail.
It saddened me to hear that his life has led to him be the quarterback for teams in his minimum security prison and that he is now washing pots and pans for twelve cents an hour when he once signed a 10 year, 130 million dollar contract.
But during the football season, if you did not follow the Falcons, Vick was just an afterthought. After all the controversy that ensued from his dog-fighting scandal, once he was placed behind bars he was wiped out completely from the NFL and everything around it.
For instance, his name that was often seen on the back of black Falcons jerseys disappeared off the face of the planet almost as fast as Mark McGwire did after he retired. The NFL moved on and did so quickly.
Which leads me to the question of whether MLB will ever be able to move past the steroid era until it is fully clean. And how will fans ever be sure that commissioner Bud Selig and his crew have scrubbed the game down from head to toe?
A kid should not have to worry like an 18-year-old at the poker tables at Foxwoods that his favorite player is cheater. But in this day and age, it is not out of the question.
But despite all of the talk of steroids, it appears that there are more reasons as to why baseball has fallen from the tops of the American sports world.
Our country has changed and so has the culture. Football has become more suitable for our generation. Football is just one game a week and every game means so much, making it easier for the average fan to follow.
Moreover, football is the most commonly bet on among other sports. In our current state, in which gambling has become a normality, that also has contributed to the increase in football viewers and fans.
Statistics only show so much. It is talking to actual sports fans that allows one to determine the fate of the world of sports.
Perhaps baseball has not lost its diehard fans, the scraggly haired kids with their fitted caps. But it is losing its casual fans, at least the will from them to become enthralled in baseball diamonds instead of sparkling ones.
All these contributing factors have led to the downfall of baseball in the public eye. Baseball has now become the aged beauty, a little too old and impure to be considered attractive and football has taken the reigns as the supermodel in her prime, as everyone wants just a little piece of her.
And although the game with rubber and leather will remain America’s Pastime and my most beloved sport, I must now cede the way for the game of pigskin as it has now sits atop as America’s Favorite Game.