Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball!

Finally, Opening Day for Major League Baseball has arrived! Whoop-ti-do, you say? Not if you're as big of a baseball fan as I am.

The five months between the end of the World Series and Opening Day can seem like an eternity to die-hard baseball fans like myself. Sure, there's plenty of football and basketball (and if you're desperate, hockey) to watch in between, but these are all just second-rate stopgaps till baseball returns in full swing (pun intended).

I have heard all the complaints people have about baseball, and I understand. I do understand, but I don't necessarily care.

There's the "baseball is just sooo slooowww!" argument. I get that. Some people don't like that it doesn't have a shot clock or a game clock to more precisely predict the parameters of its duration. Or that it moves at a pace all its own. That a game could last a mere hour and forty-five minutes or an interminable six hours (depending on if it goes into extra innings). Me, I like the randomness of the game. At any given moment, something amazing could happen. Or nothing could happen. You never know...unless you keep watching.

Then there's the "baseball is just a business" and the "players are grossly overpaid" arguments. I can't argue with either of those statements either. Of course, baseball is a business. So is football, so is basketball, so are most things that entertain us. Their objective is to make money, and owners will do whatever it takes to make more money. Whether that means building a new multibillion-dollar stadium, or signing a star player for hundreds of millions of dollars to draw in fans, or soliciting a huge corporate sponsorship in exchange for renaming the stadium after said corporation. As for the overpaid players argument, I couldn't agree more. Nobody deserves to be paid $27 million a year to play a game, even if he is one of the game's premier players. But there is no salary cap in place in the sport – though I think there should be – so as long as agents continue to ask for the big money, and as long as the owners are willing to pay it out, the players are going to be overpaid. That's just the way it is. If a player is offered a huge contract, you can't blame him for taking it.

Finally, there's the whole steroids and performance-enhancing drugs issue, which has almost overshadowed the game itself over the past three-plus years. Official reports have revealed that throughout the past twenty years or so, and probably longer, a good number of baseball players – many superstars among them – at various points in their careers, were using anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, amphetamines, and other performance-enhancing drugs to transform themselves into bigger and stronger versions of themselves, as well as to be able to play through injuries. There's no question that the level of play among hitters and pitchers alike was elevated during what has now become known as the Steroid Era. In the mid-2000's, drug testing became strictly enforced and suspensions began being handed out for infractions of the MLB drug policy. Drug testing has effectively cleaned up the game significantly in a few short years, but it still has a ways to go. There is still not a reliable test that will detect a player's use of human growth hormones, so it's likely there are still players using this performance enhancer and not getting caught. But measures have been put in place, and Major League Baseball is doing a good job of holding players accountable. Will the game ever be completely clean? Probably not. As long as there is the opportunity to cheat – in any way – and get away with it, players will cheat. And not just in baseball, but in any sport. Or in life, for that matter. The point is not that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is not a big deal – it definitely is. The point is that the game of baseball is bigger, and more important, than the stupid choices a bunch of knucklehead players may have made, which have somewhat tarnished the game.

Are these arguments valid? Yes, absolutely! Every one of them has merit, and I will not quibble with anyone who proffers these as reasons not to get excited about baseball. I will simply say that these are not reasons that will keep me from watching the game I love.

So, without further ado....

"Take me out to the ballgame
  Take me out with the crowd
  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
  I don't care if I never get back
  Let me root, root, root for the home team
  If they don't win, it's a shame
  For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
  At the old ball game."


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