Nearly 100 college basketball games in the New York area were fixed by gamblers from 1947-50. The NBA was awash in recreational drugs in the 1970s and arenas were half empty. The NFL was little better than professional wrestling when it started, a bunch of goons pounding on each other.
But baseball never really suffered. Sure, the 1919 Black Sox fixed the World Series and Pete Rose bet on games. But those were isolated incidents that were quickly cleaned up. Segregation was a terrible stain on the game, but that was more the fault of society. Even lockouts and strikes were overcome.
Every time somebody tried to kill baseball, the sport got up and was better than ever. More people watched, new stadiums were built and great stars emerged.
Now we have the steroids, the scandal that won’t go away.
Barry Bonds, the greatest home run hitter in history, cheated.
Roger Clemens, the most outstanding pitcher of his generation, cheated.
Mark McGwire, the man who broke the single-season home run record, cheated.
And now Alex Rodriguez, who could have been the best ever, is just another cheater.
At this point, anybody who played the game in the last 15 years is guilty until proven innocent. Nobody gets a pass. Rodriguez is the most physically talented player in decades. If he decided he had to cheat, everybody else has to be a suspect. Don’t forget, there are still 103 names out there just waiting to be leaked.
Mike Mussina went from being bounced out of the rotation to his first 20-win season. Suspect. Mariano Rivera never seems to take a step back. Suspect. Derek Jeter plays every day. Suspect. Joba Chamberlain sure throws hard. Suspect. Two years ago you would bet your house on those guys being clean. Would you bet $20 now? You can’t be sure about any player, not even the supposed good guys. If you are, you’re hopelessly naive.
That is the legacy Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, A-Rod and the rest of them leave. Thanks to their lack of integrity, every player in the sport has become a suspect. If you go the new Stadium this season and watch somebody hit a home run, it’ll be in the back of your mind. How could it not be? Those players who are clean must be furious.
There is no easy solution. But Kenesaw Mountain Landis threw the Black Sox out of the game and Bart Giamatti did the same to Rose. Maybe scorched earth is needed again.
Forget 50 games. One strike and you’re out for life. Scare the determined cheaters by saving samples for re-testing as methods improve. It’s ridiculous that Michael Phelps got three months for a bong hit and A-Rod gets zippo for using Primobolan and testosterone.
It’s hard to believe Rodriguez tried steroids once in 2003, on the advent of formal testing and two years after signing a record-setting deal with Texas. It also stands to reason that he continued using, given that 2003 was his first MVP season. Rodriguez will become the face of the Steroids Era, the symbol of what went wrong in baseball. Brilliant move by Hank Steinbrenner to overrule Brian Cashman in 2007 and allow Rodriguez to return to the team after he opted out. The next nine years should be a real picnic.
Commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA chief Don Fehr and Gene Orza made this mess by looking the other way for so many years, enabling A-Rod and his cheating peers. Now only they can fix it. Or perhaps the sport needs new leadership.
Baseball has overcome bad times before, but this will be the greatest challenge.
Now seems like a good time to take the temperature of the people. Vote in the poll over to the right if you would.
I’m off to Tampa in the morning and will be blogging en route.