Why Baseball Still Matters to Me
By James Friedman aka JFried1029
It seems that many of the headlines surrounding sports in general these days, and baseball in particular, are the types of things one would read on police blotters or front pages; not on sports pages. In particular, the resurgence of stories regarding Biogenesis and steroid usage in baseball have dominated the sports pages and talk radio shows of late.
While it is disappointing to see my favorite sport wash with such controversy again, baseball has survived many previous issues and came through the other side. I suspect it will again. Baseball has survived depressions, recessions, player strikes, claims of owner collusion, free agency and the resulting competitive imbalances, drug scandals, and even a year with no World Series. Every time there has been a challenge to the game, it has returned stronger than ever.
I can recall the infamous 1994 season when a player strike ended the season prematurely and resulted in there being no World Champion. For the rest of that year and the following year, there were many people who were disgusted with the game and the inability of the owners and players to reach a compromise. In many ways it was the fans who suffered most.
Many people lost interest in the game in 1995. I was asked various times how I could maintain my enthusiasm for the sport. My answer was that I loved the game of baseball- not the owners or the players in particular, and that I was not going to let these spoiled people stop my love of the sport in general.
For me, baseball offers a unique mixture of statistics, history, and strategy that is unmatchable by any other sport. While I love football, basketball, and hockey, there is nothing like a tense late season baseball game with a close score for suspense and action.
A while back, I read an interesting perspective on the whole baseball drug scandal. I cannot recall the source but the premise of the story was that Mickey Mantle, an icon of the sport and arguably the king of the card collecting hobby abused alcohol during his playing career, a drug if you will, that served to diminish his abilities and hasten the end of his career. In spite of this, Mantle to this day is universally loved and revered among sports fans.
On the other hand, Barry Bonds, if he did in fact knowingly take drugs, took drugs that would enhance and lengthen his career and make him a better ballplayer, and a greater spectacle for fans. While drug taking is arguably cheating, one could say he risked long-term health effects and years off his life to be a better player. Yet he is now universally reviled as a villain of the steroid era.
In the end, baseball and its players are a reflection of society as a whole, with a cross-section of people from varying backgrounds. They suffer through many of the same errors that we as a people do- it’s just that their lives are played out on a stage before us.
It is in some ways the flaws and humanity of the very people who play the sport that make it such great theatre for us all. The drama of imperfect people playing a near-perfect game is part of what makes the game of baseball so attractive to us.
The rich tradition and history of the sport is a large part of our American heritage and has become a significant part of childhood the world over. All of the scandals in the history and future of the game does not tarnish memories or great plays, players, games, and seasons.
Sometimes we have to awaken the little child that still lives in all of us to remember why we love the sport. If negative headlines about baseball discourage, go to any little league field or sandlot on a summer day and watch the kids playing for the pure enjoyment of the sport.
On the other stage of the spectrum, listen to older people tell tales nostalgically about the star players from their eras: DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Jackie Robinson… In the end, sports in general and specifically baseball is one of the greatest bridges across generations that we will ever have. And that is and always will be worth preserving.
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