By Chris Thatcher
I remember sitting with my father watching Joe Carter knock the World Series winning home run out of the park. I love baseball. I always have. Every since I watched the baseball classic “The Natural” I was hooked. I remember watching the 89er’s as a young boy. The mythology of baseball, The theology that you didn’t have to be able to bench press 400 pounds or, have a 40-inch vertical leap to be a legendary athlete was intoxicatingly mesmerizing.
I remember the lockout season in which we saw the Montreal Expos (The best record in the NL) seemed destined for baseball immortality as the clear favorite to win the World Series. I was watching Matt Williams set a pace to break the heaviest number in baseball at that time (61). That year was an exciting year for the sport. However; there was a looming shadow on the game. Both sides had lost hope of reaching a deal and, the MLB owners locked the players out.
I will fast forward and, skip over the issues being fought over, the tactics on both sides to prove one was more important than the other. I will simply say baseball. The players and, the owners seemed to ignore the one thing that made baseball the American pastime… us.
Whether or not they cared… we didn’t feel it. It wasn’t shown. We felt as if we were a checkbook for the game. People used to write checks back then. So, fans did the only thing that felt fair… we moved on. We watched faster games, more titillating games.
The NBA proved to be a highlight machine. The NFL was growing as a more fast paced and, open game. The world of SportsCenter was becoming a household watch for fathers and sons everywhere in America. It allowed the common fan to observe baseball without the grind of the game.
Then, lightning in a bottle. Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa we do not live in caves so, I will simply say. It was amazing to watch. Baseball was fun to watch again. Magwire hit 70 home runs. Sosa finished with 66. We were hooked. Even when 2/3 of the season was completed and Magwire did an interview with a bottle of androstene (now on the banned substance list) in plain sight… seriously right there in his locker. We forgave it because we had a great time. It was must see TV. That season came and gone. Can anyone name who won the World Series that year? Probably not.
But, like all good things… it can become saturated. Mid-level players juiced there way to big contacts. Upper-level players were getting paid ungodly amounts of money. Barry Bonds who before shoving one needle in his ass was regarded as the best player in the game. He was a jerk, he was smug, entitled and, a social repellent. The son of a baseball legend. Had baseball in his bones. The game looked easy to him. A man whose ego will always be larger than any stats he could have ever put up. So, imagine his rage as lesser players were now on his level, making more money and, the new “it” factor of baseball. But, as any great survivor will tell you. You must be willing and able to adapt. He “juiced” he started inflating his numbers.
However, he was still a jerk… so in all reality, no one cared as much… then the impossible happened. His head literally got bigger… I mean WAY bigger. At this point, the MLB could stand for Major League Backney. He became the poster boy for a new era of baseball… the steroid era. He was being booed, he was seen as the man who killed baseball as we knew it. As he hit the home run that shattered Hank Arron’s record the announcer did as he said he would. Put his mic down and, said nothing.
As I always sit back and think… the steroid era was good for baseball. We cheered as Magwire and, Sosa hit home run after home run. We even cheered as Roger Clemons won Cy Young after Cy Young and, became the greatest right-hander of all time. We even looked at him as a hopeful glimmer of light in the darkest day baseball had seen since 1919. But, even he was caught. He did it. He was as crooked as any other player. But, ladies and gentlemen… baseball is back. Players sign one contract and are set for life. Viewership is up. There is a pulse of life in a once dead pastime.
All those players who dominated that era are baseball heroes. Not the Heroes we wanted but, they are as, Commissioner Gordon would say “The Heroes we deserve.”