By Dick Friedman, SI.com
In the throes of a postwar recession, baseball has been shamed, with one of its leading hitters tainted by scandal. Some believe the sport may never recover.
We're not talking here about 2009, but the early 1920s, when the ramifications of the Black Sox scandal were revealed in all their seaminess. Eight members of the 1919 American League champion Chicago White Sox would be banned for life for their alleged role in fixing the World Series. Among them was Shoeless Joe Jackson, a .356 lifetime hitter whose participation in the fix -- established or not -- has kept him out of the Hall of Fame.
The shock and sadness of fans were given a voice in the myth of a young admirer's imploring Jackson, "Say it ain't so, Joe." The game would be pulled from the ditch, however, by the appointment an iron-fisted commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and by the slugging and charisma of Babe Ruth, whose home-run hitting exploits took fans' minds off the scandal-and not incidentally, kept them coming to the ballpark. (Of course, if there had been a 24-hour news cycle back then, the nocturnal exploits of the Bambino would have been chronicled not only by the sports media but also by the likes of E! and TMZ.com.)
In our more cynical time, few are summoning "Say It Ain't So" sentiments after reading the exclusive story by SI's Selena Roberts and David Epstein reporting that the New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez used steroids. Rather, the prevailing attitude-judging from comments on message boards and calls to sports-talk radio -- seems to be disgust. The real question, though, is whether fans will put their money where there mouths are. The A-Roid headlines and the deteriorating economy might be a double whammy for baseball. Already, some teams are reporting that ticket sales are running behind last year's. Can the A-Rod factor in and of itself keep people away from the ballpark?
After all, there doesn't seem to be Ruthian savior this time around.