2005-03-02 / Editorials

Jim Hite

It’s almost that time of year, again. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to Florida and Arizona, with the remaining position players due in a week later. Established players mix with those hopeful of making the big time in the ritual of spring training, a period when the world is fresh and hopes are high and every team has a shot at the pennant.

Of course, it’s obvious that even before the regular season begins, some teams do not really have a shot. But that doesn’t matter to the true fan. A true fan will celebrate with success or agonize with failure; and fans of teams that have been shut out of the fall classic for years or decades will continue to cheer their heroes until the last out of 2005.

Oh well, at least that’s the dream, sort of. I’m not sure if it’s reality. Major leaguers are millionaires many times over, and some sports lovers find it difficult to be diehard fans of wealthy men playing games. Team rosters change yearly, so much so that even the true fan needs a scorecard to keep up; all the more to marvel at the managerial genius of a Bobby Cox, who has brought Atlanta 13 straight division titles with never a repeat of the previous year’s lineup.

Changes in team makeup mean little continuity, and often less than "fan"-atic loyalty. But it is still baseball. And we can see baseball in many levels, from small kids through high school through college to the minor leagues. There is just something special about the start of the season. In those ancient days of my youth, I loved to bring out my glove, clean it with saddle soap, rub in Neat’s foot oil, then head to the field, lace up the metal spikes and start warming up in preparation for a season, whether school or summer league.

I digress. Let’s stay with the majors. And let’s look at the news about baseball as spring training begins. Discussion about obscene salaries has taken a back seat to drugs and steroids – so much so that many think home run records set in the recent past and the future should have an asterisk!

The highly touted drug-testing changes concerning steroids in major league baseball are a joke. Unlike track and field, which has acknowledged the problem of performance-enhancing drugs and which instituted a ban after one positive drug test, baseball has a 10-day suspension. Granted without pay, but what does that cost an individual earning a million dollars (or multiples) per year? Penalties progress: second positive, 30 days; third positive, 60 days; fourth positive, one year; fifth positive, punishment to be determined by commissioner of baseball.

Twenty years ago, pep pills and other drugs were reported in baseball, and nothing was done. Mark McGwire acknowledged using a steroid-like product, "andro," in 1998; nothing happened. Ken Caminiti said three years ago that he used steroids in 1996 when he was the National League’s MVP. Nothing happened. (He died last year at age 41.)

Finally, do fans care? The long ball is king; good pitching is boring; hit-and-run is somewhat rare; scratching for a run by smart baseball is a turn-off; and many fans would rather turn attending a game into a social event than watch the beauty of the sport, the nuances, the little things that make baseball a most fascinating athletic contest.

Don’t believe this? Go to a game and see how many keep a scorecard? How many of you keep a scorecard?

I rest my case!

In the scheme of things, amid all that is going on in our world today, maybe steroids in baseball don’t really matter. Lying and cheating goes on in some of the highest places in our country’s political, financial and business establishments. Therefore, some say, it’s no big deal in sports. However, I for one say, "Yes, it is!"

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