The sad state of professional baseball

Emptiness is loneliness and loneliness is cleanliness and cleanliness is godliness. . .

The growing baseball scandal over steroids is not the worst moment in the history of the sport. That distinction probably belongs to the 1919 Chicago White Sox, who threw the World Series for a chance to line their pockets with dirty money.

But revelations that Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi regularly stepped to the plate in recent years with a veritable pharmacy coursing through their veins is another sign of how far baseball has fallen since the days of Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.

What was once a sport for gangly young men clad in baggy pinstripes is now increasingly dominated by pill-popping, cream-rubbing millionaires. That’s more depressing than shocking. When Curt Flood made history in the 1970s by becoming the first free agent, the future of baseball was already becoming clear. Today, the sport is awash in money and an ethic of greed that makes the legendary Ty Cobb seem like Mr. Rogers.

Cobb, who held the record for most career hits before taking a backseat to Pete Rose, was famous for sliding with his metal spikes aimed high. Neither player was perfect. One was banned from baseball and might never return. But at least the bases they stole and home runs they belted were all their own.

Baseball now finds itself with a credibility gap it might never fix. What fan won’t smell fraud when the next record falls? What slugger deserves a hero’s welcome when his skin-tight jersey might be covering a back scarred with steroid-induced acne?

Small wonder, then, that many fans are turning to minor league games and amateur teams such as the St. Paul Saints. They offer something in short supply at most major league contests – a pure love of the game. It’s the love that drove Williams to bat .406 in a season and Satchel Paige to wait out segregation before making his major league debut at age 42. Fat endorsement contracts and illegal substances had nothing to with it.

Legend has it, when “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, part of the infamous 1919 White Sox, emerged from the hearing that banned him from baseball, he was met by the immortal words, “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.” Too bad Bonds, Giambi and all the other steroid users can’t hear those words today.