Tuesday, February 10, 2009

So very sad. The final nail in the coffin of modern baseball.

In retrospect, I should have been a Ken Griffey Jr. fan. I was a Frank Thomas fan at around the time Jr. started putting up his great numbers and being the best all-around player in baseball. I resented the perfection that was Griffey, and I wanted to dance to the beat of my own drummer. I was one of those little kids who was too cool to like Ken Griffey, just like there are little kids who are too cool to like the Beatles. Although, at the time, I thought Frank Thomas would end up being the greatest hitter ever to play baseball, it is clear that (at that time) the smart money would have been on Junior. Frankly, I don't really regret my choice of Frank Thomas, but I'm thinking about Griffey now that A-Rod has been outed for steroids.

Here's a guy who had integrity. He hit all those homers, early in his career, because of a sweet, perfect swing. He made all those amazing outfield catches because he was naturally blessed with the instincts to do so. He truly was the best player in baseball for several years, and talk began rather early about the possibility of him breaking that hallowed Hank Aaron record - 755 home runs. But then injuries, age and a lack of steroids seemed to catch up to him. He was no longer the player he once was when he moved on to the Reds from the Mariners, and he has become one of the forgotten old-timers. And how easy to forget a guy like Griffey when McGwire and Sosa are putting up those ridiculous home run totals. Or when Griffey is on the downside of his career, like a regular human, while Roger Clemens seems to get better and better and more powerful with age. And who talks about the what-might-have-been with Griffey, when it has already happened - Hank Aaron's record has fallen to the basketball-headed Barry Bonds.

But here's what drove it home for me - Alex Rodriguez. I remember a few years ago there was a discussion of steroid testing in golf. I can't remember who it was, but there was a PGA pro who had a great line - I'm all for steroid testing, he said. It's pretty easy in golf - all you have to do is test one guy. And he was, of course, right. If Tiger Woods is clean, who cares if Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh or Mike Weir is injecting himself? They could be cramming in steroids between holes and it wouldn't matter. As long as Tiger is clean, that sport is clean. Baseball was a different story. Every major star was NOT clean. Every MVP, every Cy Young winner, was under intense scrutiny at all times. And most of them tested positive and had to admit their steroid use. Even those guys who had already been blessed with stellar careers, who seemed destined for the Hall of Fame anyway, took the drugs toward the end of their careers to get that little bit extra.

And that brings me to A-Rod. The one guy who maybe could transcend the whole mess. Virtually unanimously considered the best player in baseball, the highest-paid player in history, and so far untouched by the steroid scandal. He spoke to Katie Couric and said he had never used steroids, never needed to do so. In fact, he went on at great length about how he had never done so, in what turned out to be a monumental series of lies. I had been crossing my fingers. I had been holding my breath and hoping against hope that A-Rod was clean. And that he would break the home run records, and that he would once again restore a little bit of class and legitimacy to baseball. He was the only man who could do it. Albert Pujols is great, Manny Ramirez is spectacular, but only A-Rod had a chance to be the Greatest of All Time and be clean.

I was never an A-Rod fan. Much like my distaste for Griffey when I was a kid, I spent much of my later life being too cool for A-Rod. But he was the beacon to which I hitched my hopes and dreams of recapturing the magic of baseball. And now, he has driven the final nail into baseball's coffin. Every stat, every record, every momentous occasion baseball has had over the past fifteen years must now be ignored. Nothing important has happened without the aid of performance enhancing drugs, and nothing will until Bud Selig starts becoming more than just the owners' buddy. Bud - wipe the record books clean. Hank Aaron is still the home run champion. Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux still have the most Cy Young Awards. Roger Maris' still has the single-season homer record. Barry Bonds retired in 1995. There has been no baseball at all, in fact, since 1993, there has just been another game masquerading as baseball. Let's start over. Let's so some serious testing, and then play the 1994 season this spring.

That way, Ken Griffey Jr. might still have a shot at 755. And wouldn't that be a good eraser for the black mark that is baseball?

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