Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game - and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams.
With all the stuff that is in the funny papers today and on the television and the radio regarding the state of baseball, congressional involvement with baseball and PED usage in baseball it has become overwhelming and draining. Baseball is a game and a sport that I love. That I think is probably the most wonderful, beautiful and complete game that has ever been invented. And all you need is a sunny day, field of grass or an empty dirt lot or an empty street and a bat and a ball and some kids and there you have it ...all the necessary ingredients for a game of baseball. Damn, what more could you ask for. But baseball through the years has lost that innocence. It has become a big business on the professional level and both the owners and the offices of MLB and the players now enjoy wealth and fame beyond compare. The competition and the skill level has become so heightened, so specialized, so tweaked to the last little nuance that it has become almost a game I hardly seem to recognize anymore. And this heightened competition to become the best has reached down into the lower levels, into the college levels and into the high schools and yes into the youth leagues ... Babe Ruth ball, Little League, American Legion ball...everyone has to be the best now. The game no longer matters it is only winning and being the best. And then you wonder why the ugly specter of PEDs and other drugs both prescription and non prescription drugs have illegally entered into the game? Every player needed that extra edge to hang on to; to maintain their peak level of performance. The temptation whether from ego or desperation was too great. They had to find that little extra something that went above and beyond the limitations of the human body and mind. So these sad pitiful words became a part of the baseball lexicon: steroids, performance enhancers....whatever.
These players with the sanction of, whether through the complicity, implicitly or the duplicity, of Major League Baseball in the guise of the owners, the commissioner's office and the union leadership sallied forth and participated in the now infamous age of illegal performance enhancers. Baseball because of its greed; because of its inherent adherence to the laws of capitalism was taken over by the money gods. And the players led by the union leadership had now joined full force with the lower echelons of the hierarchy of the money tree by participating in that gluttonous greed orgy of untold wealth. They desired the fame and the riches and damn the rationale or method they were going to attain those "lofty goals" through any means possible. Besides the unspoken word and the thinking was that "I'll never get caught. I'll be extra careful. Besides it ain't against baseball's rules and it's only a little illegal so who does it hurt?" (Well at the time it was until baseball grudgingly, and the union grudgingly admitted that they would have to allow more stringent testing after all.) But it is everyone; that is who it hurts. Because whether these so-called idols, these so-called gods themselves, of baseball, will admit it or not; whether they want it or not, they are the heroes of many of the children of our America. These kids look up to these people and say "Heck if he can do it, if my hero, my idol can do it and attain these goals these glories then it can't be all that bad and so can I." But it is bad and it is harmful and people are dying because of steroids and performance enhancers. People are engaging in criminal activities and becoming entwined with real and actual criminals and at times organized crime figures. People are being cheated out of work because some one else took the place that they had earned through hard work and dedication. It hurts us the fan because we get cheated at seeing the players who earned the right to play when that work ethic is defeated. And then slowly it became real to us that it is all okay and it is fine to win at any cost and means available. So it cheats our children now because they are taught honesty and fair play and decency is out the window and all the rules are forgotten if you just win. And it makes a mockery out of the bible of baseball, the record book, the written word because now we have no idea, no understanding of what is real and what is tainted and soiled because of certain players who may have used performance enhancers. The world has changed and baseball has been taken up by the whirlwinds of change, the spirit of the American way and all of its ideal has been distorted and cast to the waysides by the desire, the need for an instantaneous fifteen minutes of fame. That fame, that fleeting luscious intoxicating heady egotistical feeling that seems to drive so many of us these days. And to what end? The sarcastic, the mean spirited , those of us who can only see the glass as half full, the pessimistic of us who will say that's just the way it is and to some extent they are so correct but it really doesn't have to be. We can be restored to a small vestige of yesterday. We can still recover a small part of life that is innocent and honest and, dare I say it, that holy part of our lives in a small discernible wonderful way. We can restore baseball to being that symbol of our true selves if we really, really desire it in the bottom of our hearts and our souls. We can return to those small town ways and pick up our bats and our balls and just play the game. Feel what it means to just be a part of the simple part of a true piece of America. Because that is what this is all about really. It is a need to return to the game, to a game which is so great to begin with in the first place. A return to the perfect game played competitively, honestly and with no quarter given until the last out has been written into the books. It is a return to people cheering, with their peanuts, their lemonades and, yeah, the heady taste of beer on a summers day and into the cool fresh evening twilight. It is the shouts, the cheers, the loudness of each team's fans in the stands rooting their side to play to the very end no matter the score because there is no clock in baseball, it is always played to the end to the last strike or ball, to the last run or out. It is the dirt and the grass. It is the fact that size really doesn't matter, anyone who wants to can play the game. Baseball is very democratic in that respect. It is that need to return to just that very simplistic idea of some one throwing a round spherical object at a person holding a long round slender stick and then the battle begins. The chess game is played out over the next twenty seven or so outs for each team. Not easy at times but oh so simple and perfect.
But there is something that stops us at this time from returning to that once simple and perfect game. We need to confront our recent past. The players need to confront the reality of this steroids age. They need to face the facts. Admit that they made mistakes. Then MLB baseball needs to submit itself to independent testing and they need to do it now. No waiting. Let the ownership through the commissioner and the players through the union meet and agree to independent testing of the same type that is done at the Olympics. Then Baseball must set up a fund ... a very large fund that is paid into by all the clubs ... that educates the players and the trainers, all baseball personnel in fact, and then goes out to the youth leagues and educates these children of ours. Then we all need to realize that the players, after all is said and done, are not gods and they are not infallible idols but rather fragile weak human beings who do fall prey to vices and the need to feed their egos with fame and glory and wealth like so many human beings that went before them. They made mistakes and if they can face that reality then we should be willing to forgive them. We must all heal from this despicable and insidious plague called steroids...performance enhancers. We must so we can return to that time of yesteryear.
So with all this in mind I went back to this picture I once took at the Mecca of baseball, the shrine of the game itself, the Hall of Fame. To this picture that had these simple words on it that once were so very true of America once upon a time: "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game - and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams." And it made me sad to know that that time was somehow lost to us now. The innocence had left. And for some odd reason I remembered a man dying and the simple words he said at his last public speech: "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." And I some how found that I don't want to give up on the sport I love, the sport I cherish. It isn't about steroids when you realize the essence of the game. It isn't about these athletes who have these outsized egos and it isn't about the owners and the commissioner who are supposed to be the stewards of the game's majesty and its history and its present state of existence. It is about you and me and our children enjoying having a little friendly competition out in the sun and the green grass and breathing in some fresh air and knowing for just that one little moment we are restored to the innocence that we once knew and loved. Because, as Bill Gallo, an artist and sports writer for the New York Daily News, says it is all about going out and having "a catch with your kid." Baseball is that very essence of America that Jacques Barzun spoke to in his quote that headed this very essay.... So it is with this hope and need and desire that I have taken up the mantra to never give up ... to never give up on baseball and the faith that it can be restored to a better time that once was. And one last thing: Go have a catch with your kid.......today, now if you can.