[This item was originally posted to The Media Drop]
If you’ve ever watched The Sports Reporters on ESPN, then you know it usually ends up with one or two comments being said which get jumped on by a few other people – today was really kind of different than normal, and I’m surprised at the lack of surprise and vigor that the statement I’d like to go into received.
The Kansas City Star’s Jason Whitlock, a regular on the show, was discussing the issue of steroids as related to Major League Baseball and the sports’ fans. While Bob Ryan, Ian O’Connor, and host John Saunders seemed to have a very different opinion, Whitlock truly seemed convinced that the steroid issue wouldn’t be a big deal to baseball, and that fans just wouldn’t care. I’ll give you that steroids might not have been on the top of the list of “issues” fans care about, as discussed here on CNN by the Gallup Poll’s Frank Newport back in December – but that was before there was “proof” of how close steroids were to our players.
I’d also have to say, at the very least, that the bulk of columnists disagree with your theory on this. I’ll take three of four people on this morning’s show as a decent litmus test. As columnists write on the topic and players get bigger, talk starts moving around the league. Every city has an example. Back in May of 2002, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was talking about Bret Boone. Barry Bonds has had rumours flying for a few years now. Houston’s Ken Caminiti came out and said that he was using steroids and that it was prevalent in the game. I know people grow up and buff up, and technology and exercise has improved in ten years, but I remember a Ken Caminiti baseball card from like 1987 where he was a scrawny kid – he’s one of the more jacked players I’ve seen in….ever.
It’s fine that you (and I’m paraphrasing without a transcript here, so apologies for any errors) “went to school and played sports with players who were using steroids”, and that “it didn’t seem like a big deal” or whatever it was that you said, but I’d really have to disagree with you, Mr. Whitlock. I remember it being a pretty big deal when certain people I went to high school with left school in June and were the same as they’d been for the last two years, but when I saw them in September they were only *slightly* more huge than they should have been. Gee, that wasn’t too odd seeing them all of a sudden go from average player with talent to star player. No one thought that was a good thing, to be honest – sure it was nice to have a competitive team, but don’t think we weren’t all walking around going “What happened to him?” in the hallways.
If Sammy Sosa had been caught in the locker room with a needle in his backside, instead of cork in a bat, would we think that 1998 was an utter disaster? I think the bulk of the population would have to agree. While I certainly believe Sammy used the bat in batting practice almost exclusively, just because I give him that much credit, I don’t buy what he says about batting practice as being true for the game. Sure, fans want to see the longball – but we don’t want cheaters. It’s funny to watch high-bouncy balls fly out of your bat, but two seconds later when you realize what happened, it’s not a good thing.
This isn’t the WWE, Mr. Whitlock. If we wanted juiced forearms, we would turn that on. It was bad enough that the Mike Gallegos (no offense, Mike) were hitting opposite field home runs ten years ago out of nowhere, and baseball took us all to task stating that there was no difference in the baseballs. But to honestly think that we wouldn’t care if it came to light that Barry Bonds’ trainer, who was indicted recently on steroid distribution were ever to come out and say that Bonds was participating in taking these products, it would be a disaster, in my opinion. I know I would care, and the other fans who actually care about the game would do so as well. Read what these fans had to say when talking about Sosa when they were asked about the corked bat incident.
I think Jason Whitlock is vastly underestimating baseball’s fanbase, and I truly hope that he’s not surprise when fans continue to turn on “the National Pastime.” Baseball doesn’t need a disaster like this – 1998 helped after the strike a few years earlier, and having something harsh come out just six years later could put the game back in the doldrums that it lingered in for a couple seasons.