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The Collapse of Major League Baseball



Was anybody surprised to learn that Manny Ramirez took performance enhancing drugs?

If you were, you haven’t been paying attention.  In the last year we’ve learned that the two best hitters in the game (A-Rod and now Manny) were cheating, as well as the best pitcher over the last twenty years (Clemens).  At this point, nothing should shock us.

What’s sad is that this steroid era throws everything we love about baseball into question.  ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a great column yesterday touching on this theme. Excerpt:

We settle into our seats. I point toward the championship banners over the first-base side. They go in order: 1903, 1904, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007. Ever since Boston won the World Series 10 years ago, I always imagined pointing to that 2004 banner and telling my little boy, “That’s the team that changed everything.”

So that’s what I do. I point at the banner and tell him, “That’s the team that changed everything.”

“Isn’t that the team that cheated?” he asks.

My father and I glance at each other. A few beats pass.

“Well, technically, no,” I stammer. “I mean …”

“I thought they had a whole bunch of steroids guys on that team,” he says.

“Well, there have been some accusations, and yeah, some of the power numbers were a little suspicious, but …”

“I’d do it again!” my dad yells happily.

“Dad!”

I shake my head at him. He shrugs. The thing is, he WOULD do it again. He wanted to see the Red Sox win the World Series in his lifetime. He worried about it constantly. So did I. So did every Red Sox fan. We worried about living a full life, then dying, without ever seeing them win. All of us knew people who fit in that category. None of us wanted to end up in there.

All of us would have made a deal with the devil at the time. And maybe we did. We just didn’t know it.

“Nothing was ever really proved,” I tell my son, trying to keep up the good fight.

He ignores me and starts rattling through our 2004 lineup with creepy precision. He points out Nomar Garciaparra’s remarkable 1999 and 2000 seasons, his subsequent tendon injuries and how his career played out so blandly afterward for reasons that remain unclear. My dad points out the Sox traded Nomar midway through the 2004 season. Technically, that debate shouldn’t even matter. Score one for Dad.

“But what about Trot Nixon and Bill Mueller?” my son says. “They missed a bunch of games every year with injuries, put on weight when they were skinny guys, peaked quickly and were never seen again. Same for Mark Bellhorn, right? That’s suspicious.”

“Well,” I say, “their names never came up in anything, so that’s not really fair …”

“And Kevin Millar, he had a few big homer years, then his power numbers went way down once the testing started.”

“That’s true, but it doesn’t prove anything …”

“And Johnny Damon, he got bigger and started hitting for more power even though he was a singles hitter, right?”

“Well …”

“And what about Big Papi?” he wonders. “Played for Minnesota, didn’t hit for power, came to the Red Sox, turned into the best slugger in the league, and as soon as they cracked down on steroids, he stopped hitting homers again. And he was friends with all the other Dominican players who were linked to performance-enhancing drugs. What about him?”

Silence. Nobody says anything.

Read the whole thing.  It’s depressing.  Where was Commisioner Bud Selig the last 15 years?  How did he let drug abuse spiral out of control?  The MLB Players Association deserves blame too– their attempts to maintain “privacy” for the players made it possible to cheat and get away with it.

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