(Note: Occasionally, the Hardball Times runs guest pieces from its readers. This is one such piece, obviously in response to the latest Alex Rodriguez/steroids revelation. Thanks to Bobby Mueller for his thoughts.)
I love baseball. I’ve loved it since I was a little kid. I loved playing it, whether it was making a backhanded stop in the shortstop hole and firing the ball across the diamond to just barely get the out at first or connecting with a belt-high fastball and driving a shot to left-center.
In my life, I’ve never felt more alive then when standing on a pitcher’s mound late in a close game with runners on base and the other team’s best hitter walking to the dish. I love watching it, especially in this day and age when I can subscribe to MLB’s Extra Innings package and flip from game to game, catching a first-inning rally here or a late-game comeback there. I love listening to it, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the drum beats in the background in Cleveland or the surprisingly-clear voice of that fan in Tampa Bay. I love reading about it, from the old time stories in The Glory of Their Times to the plethora of terrific baseball sites on the web nowadays.
I love watching a pitcher like Greg Maddux set up a hitter with his mediocre-speed fastball but supernatural control. I love watching a hitter fight off multiple 3-2 pitches before lashing a line drive to the gap in a crucial moment late in the game. I love watching a center fielder take off just before the crack of the bat, run full speed into the gap, and make an amazing superman-in-the-air catch, taking away a sure double, possible triple. I love a perfectly-executed squeeze play. I love when there’s a fast runner on second and a hard hit shot is sent into right field where a strong-armed outfielder comes up gunning and there’s a close play at the plate.
I just love the game. It’s that simple. I love it unconditionally. Most humans that I love or have loved in the past, I have done so conditionally. If they treat me like crap, I stop loving them. Baseball can treat me like crap, and I’ll still love it.
In my lifetime, there have been multiple work stoppages, the cost of attending a game has gone way up, the price to buy a beer has skyrocketed, players have been caught using steroids, they’ve been busted for cocaine, they’ve been arrested for spousal abuse. Team owners have gouged their home cities in their quest for taxpayer-funded ballparks.
The idol of my youth, Pete Rose, is currently banned from baseball for betting on the game. He’s a sad, pitiful guy who sells his autograph any chance he gets, but that doesn’t matter to me because I’ll always remember the way he played the game, the way he sprinted down to first after a walk, his belly-flop dives into third, the heads-up play he made when a foul ball popped out of Bob Boone’s catcher’s mitt and Pete snagged it in mid-air in the 1980 World Series. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, hasn’t had a winning season in 16 years. Their last winning season ended with a Game 7 loss in the National League Championship Series, on a two-out, bases-loaded, bottom-of-the-9th hit by Francisco Freakin’ Cabrera, a hit that scored the nearly-immobile Sid Bream, who was running from second with a mammoth knee brace on, yet still slid in just barely ahead of the throw. That hurt me. That was painful. That was a big blow to my heart. But I recovered and continued to love the game.
In mid-July of 1994, I was in a horrible car accident that left me in intensive care for two weeks and confined to a hospital bed for many more months after. A month after that car accident, at a time when I needed baseball the most as a way to get through the difficult days, the players walked out and the season was over. Tony Gwynn was hitting .394. Jeff Bagwell was slugging .750. Greg Maddux had a 1.56 ERA. During the roughest time of my life, there was no baseball. There was no pennant race, no playoffs, no World Series. And yet, I still loved the game.
So, more discoveries of steroid use won’t affect my love for baseball. If it is revealed that half the players in baseball used steroids in the late-90’s, it won’t matter, I’ll still love baseball. If it turns out that Albert Pujols or, even worse, Greg Maddux, used steroids, I’ll still love baseball. The game is bigger than the players. It’s bigger than the owners and the media. I don’t have to idolize the players to love the game of baseball. I’m an adult, I don’t need them to be my heroes. I realize they are just people, with the same flaws that we all have. The people who play the game, the men who own the teams, the commissioner who runs the league, and the media that reports on the game, they are the ones who are flawed. The game of baseball is without flaws. There’s nothing the people associated with the game can do to ruin it for me. No matter what happens, I’ll still love baseball.