I recently read an article in another publication intended to create a positive feeling for baseball fans but, in my case, it just caused me to reflect on how sad things have become.
The article was about Darryl Strawberry, a former star. Most readers remember Strawberry from his exploits on the diamond and his relationship with drugs off the playing field. The piece covered his attitude of “Good riddance to fame and addiction.” Strawberry is now an ordained minister and operates recovery programs with his wife Tracy, also a recovering addict.
The article fell a little short with me because I was fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere where America’s game was a game first and a business second, and the players treated it like a game, not an opportunity for money grubbing.
Those were the days when Jackie Robinson wowed the world with his skills and hustle. We watched him take the abuse reserved for people of color and give many racists a different view of colored people. With him were stars like Don Newcombe, Roy Campenella, Larry Doby and Willie Mays, to name a few. These players are just the tip of the iceberg among colored players at the time. Unfortunately the number of African-American players has diminished considerably.
I remember Preacher Rowe, Early Wynn, Bob Feller, Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell, known for his baffling submarine delivery of a pitch. A standout for me was Sandy Koufax, a Jewish player who wouldn’t play on Saturday, putting his faith before the game and demonstrating that integrity is a good thing. For these men, the only performance enhancing drug they encountered was a cigarette and occasionally a chew of tobacco.
Those were the days when a pitcher was expected to pitch nine innings and, in the event of a double header, would spend the second game in the bullpen in case he was needed for relief. In today’s game, we have a starter, middle reliever, a second reliever and a closer. In some cases, pitching changes happen so often it leaves the guys keeping stats scratching their heads and wondering what’s wrong with their computers.
In today’s game we have such notables as Roger Clemens swearing to Congressional committees that he never took any performance-enhancing drugs despite a number of witnesses saying otherwise. New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte was caught up in the same probe, and he admitted he had experimented with a little “something something” from time to time. After ‘fessing up, Andy is back to work and Roger is trying to find a way to stay out of jail for perjury.
Most readers remember the battle in 1998 for the single-season homerun record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Both were tearing the cover off of the ball, trying to make Babe Ruth and Roger Maris just footnotes on the page. But later investigations dropped a cloak of suspicion on the two contenders, who were invited to Washington to explain. McGwire took the high road and confessed he was taking Andro, a growth hormone which is now on the substance abuse list. But at the time, you could purchase it over the counter and Major League Baseball had no policy in place. Sosa appeared with an interpreter, and claimed he did not have a strong command of the English language.
Now, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is in the spotlight, and his plight is getting worse every day. All of this makes me yearn for the days when sports were games and not a showcase for greed and drugs.