09 April 2017
Baseball as Society's Mirror
Sports, like many things in our society, reflect things that are happening within it, and just like movies, music, or TV, also have diehard fans that treat their team winning as life or death. Everyone knows someone that takes sports so seriously that you cannot help but think once in a while, “imagine if they actually cared about things that mattered?” There was a time when professional athletes had to work in the off-season, and baseball is generally the sport noted when talking about such a thing. “Like many players before the salary boom that began in the late 1970s, [Yogi] Berra returned home and found an offseason job” (baseballhall.org). In Yogi Berra’s time, baseball wasn’t the multi-million dollar product that it is now. In 1947, the minimum pay was only $5,000; today, it is $507,500 (theatlantic.com). No one can argue against the fact that baseball players 70 years ago played the game for the love of it; there simply wasn’t enough money there to play it for a full-time career.
We live in an era where professional baseball players (and other professional athletes) are idolized in our society. As a result of that, many children look up to them as a bastion of hope, and when I was a child I absolutely did. Therefore, when athletes get caught cheating, it is often a polarizing experience for people. When Alex Rodriguez was caught using performance enhancing drugs, he did everything within his power to not take blame for using them, and instead chose to deflect on others. He never seemed like he was sorry for it, and why would he be? As a society, we are obsessed with the biggest, strongest, fastest, etc., and when these athletes make unbelievable amounts of money, it makes sense that they might attempt to gain an unfair advantage. As a child, I fondly remember the home run race of 1998, when Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs duked it out in an attempt to past Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs in a single MLB season. It was a competition of the most primal nature; two men fighting head-to-head, one of them to be the ultimate victor. They both ended up breaking the record of 61 – Sosa finished with 66 home runs, and McGwire with 70. Even as an eight-year-old at the time, I knew there was something off about those two. I had heard mentions of steroids here and there, but that didn’t mean much to me. This is relevant because as a society, everybody watched the home run race. People that didn’t care for sports were watching it, my grandparents that didn’t watch sports were watching it; society was tuned in, and anyone that was watching TV knew about the home run race. Even now, most people can remember the home run race, and remember it fondly. As a society, no one cared that Sosa and McGwire were using steroids; the product that Major League Baseball was putting out was very entertaining, and everyone loved to watch it. It was talked about at the water cooler, at school, literally everywhere, so why did people suddenly care about PEDs when Rodriguez was caught?
Baseball for a long time has been considered “America’s pastime;” anyone that watches it will tell you that. Baseball is considered a gentleman’s game, so celebrating is something that many look down upon. If a batter celebrates a home run too much, they can expect to possible be hit the next time they come up to bat. It’s a thinking man’s game. If you go to a game, you will still see people in the crowd keeping track of the score in their own scorebook, as a throwback to back when it was all done by hand. A baseball game has no time limit, although recently some rules have been modified in an attempt to speed along the game. The longest game ever was in 1981 between two Triple A teams: the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings. It lasted 33 innings (with a suspension after 32 endings), and had a total time of 8 hours and 25 minutes (infoplease.com). Baseball is a “sacred” game, and many people believe when someone cheats they deserve to be punished. Why then, when Alex Rodriguez cheated did people want to go on a witch hunt and burn him at the stake? Quite simply, the MLB didn’t care at the time because McGwire and Sosa were making them an absolute boatload of money. Four years before the home run race, there was a strike in in the 1994 season, resulting in what many called an absolute low point for professional baseball. How could a sport that is supposed to be a staple of Americana be stopped by something as fickle as money? The 1994 strike is widely considering an embarrassment to the sport of baseball, and the 1998 home run race was absolutely what they needed. Many fans of the game stopped watching after the strike, and as I previously mentioned, the home run race brought not only baseball’s fans back, but created many fans that didn’t exist before.
In America, we often like to follow trends. The 1998 home run race is a perfect example of a trend, because not only did baseball fans watch it, the world did. It transcended baseball, and honestly, it saved baseball. I have lived through many years of the sport as both a participant and a fan, and some of my fondest memories of watching the game come from that year. I have never been so glued so a sporting event like I was to that one, and there isn’t a fan of baseball that doesn’t think of McGwire when they think of Sosa, and vice versa. Those two are forever linked in the hall of baseball mythology, regardless that they used PEDs. Society nowadays wants to shun players that use them, but that same society is the one that forgets just how excited baseball was in the late 90s. Everyone loves to see a ball hit harder or faster, and in the moment it is more exciting to see a 450 foot home run than it is to see a 350 foot home run. It was, and remains to this day, very hypocritical of people to ostracize Alex Rodriguez, but not recognize that steroids literally saved baseball. Until there is a way to prove whether or not every player uses performance enhancing drugs, people (and society as a whole) need to let it go.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope to see you!