Baseball? What’s that?


The Mitchell Report is out and it set the sporting world on fire. It unmasked a number of players as having taken part in steroid abuse but, then again, not nearly as many as was rumored to be included.

I wanted to be interested in this story but I just couldn’t get myself to care.

Understand that this isn’t a diatribe from someone who never cared for baseball. I played it heavily as a kid. I coached my own son through Little League. I started a fantasy baseball league in 1985 long before most anyone else had ever heard of such a thing (and actually before that term even existed). That league ran for 11 years. During that time I’d gone to many games. I lived baseball. Every evening I tuned into ESPN for the latest news. I could name a dizzying number of rookie ball players and the familiarity increased the further up the minors you cared to go. I was a baseball junkie.

I had already started, by the start of the 1990’s, to have some serious reservations about the sport. I’d seen a number of things that had damaged it as far as being a fan was concerned. First was free agency. I grew up as a die-hard Phillies fan. It was important as a fan to know that each year you’d come back with the same nucleus of players to build upon the effort of prior years. I got to watch Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski and a host of other players grow within the organization, mature and, finally, win the World Series in 1980. Even during the lean years, these were our guys. You felt for them and grew with them even if they didn’t win. Free agency destroyed all that.

Suddenly no one played for a team for more than a few years. I no longer felt tied to the Phillies. Fantasy baseball and free agency turned me into a general fan of the game itself. I still rooted for the Phillies but I wasn’t as emotionally tied to them like before. That had a direct result in a reduction of desire to head to see games in person.

The skyrocketing costs brought on by free agency also hurt. You used to be able to go to a game for a reasonable price and have a great time for a reasonable amount. Suddenly it became a huge outlay of cash to go. Season tickets became a dream only for those who could write off the expense for business or who had hit any number of life’s lotteries.

The final blow came in 1994 during yet another labor strike. It was the 8th such stoppage and 4th in 23 years. At the end of the 1994 season baseball canceled the entire post-season including the World Series. Two world wars, a decade-long depression and an earthquake couldn’t stop the World Series and yet for the first time since 1904 a century-long tradition was being thrown away.

That was it. I realized at that moment that I’d reached my limit. This sport, it became clear to me, no longer genuinely cared about me as a fan. They only saw me as a means by which they would all get their share of baseball’s pie. They preferred that I’d just continue to make my investment, shut up and keep living in the dark. That wasn’t for me. I vowed then and there to divest myself of my interest and investment in baseball. Our fantasy league collapsed. No one cared to revive it. I stopped going to games. I stopped watching. I lost touch. Today I couldn’t tell you the name of a single minor league player. I’d be hard-pressed to name more than four or five Phillies’ players.

I’ve been to a couple of games since but only when I was given tickets by others. Mainly I went only because I wanted to expose my son to the pro game for his own valuation. Thankfully, he finds minor league baseball just as interesting and more intimate and fun.

What baseball forgot was their side of the investment. Many people out there are like me and have now raised a generation of kids who don’t have the same love for the game built into them. They have better things to do than worry about the status of this game that their parents used to care about. My son has no idea about this latest news and that’s great in my view. He, and his friends, will grow up devoid of this crutch and baseball will pay the price for its short-sightedness.

Once I moved off the baseball drug I found I had more time to invest in other things. I found I didn’t need it. I found I really didn’t care who won or lost. I caught tidbits of the home run chase between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa but didn’t search it out. I knew then that something was wrong with respect to drugs. We had Lenny Dykstra here in Philly and it was clear that this guy was not on the level. I also remember Barry Bonds well. He was the centerpiece of my fantasy baseball outfield for years. I drafted him as a skinny kid who’d just materialized in the Pirates organization. It was evident to me that he was growing in ways people don’t naturally grow no matter what the denials stated.

When I caught tidbits of stories about his chasing the venerable Hank Aaron for career home runs I found myself wishing him ill will. Even with all the time away, just getting even a little close to this “game” brought out negative feelings. How could baseball stand by knowing this was all a lie? How could they let someone like Barry Bonds laugh in the face of true value by cheating to steal history away from those who came before him?

And now I read that the Mitchell Report suggests that nothing happen to these guys—that the time has passed for that and that they should just make changes and move on. This sort of thing is why I started thinking of baseball in the same way many view “professional” wrestling. Little did I know that fantasy baseball was what everyone was playing all along. I’m just glad I haven’t invested any more time, money or emotion into this sorry excuse for a national pastime.

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