No Respect: Baseball Needs Better People, Not Stricter Penalties

Will NortonCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2007 was born a Boston Red Sox fan and will undoubtedly die a Red Sox fan. Baseball has given me great happiness, great sorrow, and most importantly great memories. In short, baseball is here to stay in my life.

But as the Mitchell Report dropped its proverbial hammer down on the institutional framework of our great sport, all baseball lovers were left with a hallowing question: Where does the game go from here?

This is not to say that George Mitchell's report changed the game forever or even told us things we didn’t already assume, but it certainly brought a degree of retrospective closure to one of baseball's most hideous eras—and this closure transitions effectively to the “where are we going?” question for the future.

Some say let's move on and forget the past. Others assert that justice and truth need to emanate out of Mitchell's probe. Others still don't really seem to care about the transgressions of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, or Miguel Tejada.

After all, this is just a sport, right? It's not like these guys are murderers, rapists, or detriments to society.

You can go so many ways on this issue. No answer is wrong, per se, but I for one believe that at the crux of the debate lies a moral imperative that all athletes should have to answer to:

Don't shame the game that has given you a life most can only dream of.

Only in baseball can a perfectly average employee earn upwards of $10 million per season, as we saw last year with Gil Meche and will likely see this year with the likes of Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse. Name me another profession where you can be average, pedestrian, ordinary even, and still make more in seven months than most humans can in a lifetime?

I'm waiting...

That's right—there is no other profession as lucrative and ridiculous as professional baseball.

So respect the damn game.

But more importantly, respect the foundation of the game—baseball's history.

Baseball transcends fantasy leagues and player options. I know it's hard to see in this age of ever-growing technological advancement, but baseball's unique standing in sports grows out of its historical longevity, its great obsession with keeping statistical measures of performance, and its unique communal bond.

And so when Roger Clemens allegedly asked a trainer to inject him with illegal steroids prior to the 2000 playoffs, he spat in the face of those who respect the game, both past and present.

When the Rocket—maybe the best hurler of the modern era—stepped on the storied mound of Yankee Stadium and battled the Mets in the fall classic with alleged levels of steroids in his system, he disgraced every player who has ever honestly tried to represent the game with moral integrity. Same with Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and even lesser-known diamond dwellers like Adam Piatt and Rondell White.

Superstar or bench warmer, the crime is the same.

Where is the moral resolve? Where is the respect for a game that provides such privilege and luxury?

I know that many players do respect the game and do go about their profession with honesty, and they deserve my highest praise. They give us hope.

Others, like Clemens, throw sawed-off bats at Mike Piazza and then blame the "intesity of the moment" and his "competative spirit" for his actions. Given what we know now, that infamous incident explains itself. No explanation needed, Rog.

Now, some might say that players of the past, if given the opportunity, would have taken HGH and all these other 21st Century body boosters. Some might say cheating existed well before these drugs—with spit-balls, corked bats, and vaseline on the brim of caps.

Some might say that cheating is simply part of sports. Period. Marion Jones, Floyd Landis, Barry Bonds, the New England Patriots—they all tried to gain a competitive edge disingenuously. That is just where we are in professional sports. 

I for one simply can't accept that. At the most individual level, professional athletes have to wake up and be accountable for disgracing something that gives them so much.

Do they have any idea how good they have it? Do they have any idea, relatively speaking, how much preferential treatment and opportunity they are provided simply for being good at sports

I look back at all baseball has taught us and given us and I am ashamed to root for the athlete in 2007.

Baseball gave us a great pastime. It survived two World Wars. It helped, to some degree, usher in the institutional and psychological change necessary for racial desegregation. It has given us moments that we can all be proud of.

And this is how the modern day athlete repays the sport? With shame, dishonesty, and, most importantly, zero accountability? 

Roger Clemens says he didn't do it. Barry Bonds relentlessly proclaims his innocence. Maybe they should be given a chance to prove it before we all assume their guilt.

But I just don't buy it anymore. I don't believe, trust, or value anything these athletes say because in the end, I simply don’t believe they have the moral conviction to subjectively and honestly articulate the truth.

It is really that simple. 

It is becoming abundantly clear that baseball doesn't need a more comprehensive bargaining agreement, or a more equitable salary cap, or a better formatted playoff system.

What baseball needs are players who respect what the sport has given them and cherish the history of the game.

What baseball needs are better people.