To start with a brief history of the supporting cast: We begin with Jose Canseco: The godfather of steroids. Brought it into the game and it spread to each team that he was ever signed by.
Then you have Bud Selig: The commissioner who cared more about the dollar column and popularity of his sport than the integrity of the game… So he turned a blind eye in hope to save the popularity of his league.
Mark McGwire: America’s sweetheart became the single season home-run king by beating Roger Maris’ record in 1998. And baseball became popular again.
Then when baseball could no longer turn a blind eye… they ban the man who brought steroids to baseball. Jose Canseco… So now Bud Selig was in the clear. To the public, he took a stance on drugs and banned the guy who started it all. PROBLEM SOLVED.
But then Canseco started his war. Sent out a blacklist of everyone he personally knew and doped with who had a link to steroids (including Mark McGwire). And even came out and said that he had suspicion of others such as A-Rod. Basically if he was banned from the league, other people were going to share his sentence. He turned the table and showed everyone what actually happens in Major League Baseball. Jose Canseco left a black mark on the league at the height of its popularity and did his very best to bring down the man who brought him down.
So the villains were established and now you still have guys breaking the rules for the sake of competitive advantage, which thickens the plot even more for this drama.
Now we look for the heroes. At the beginning of the steroid scandal created by Canseco, you had guys that still gave hope to fans and created the possibility of bringing integrity back to the Career Home Run record that was made taken over by Barry Bonds. Alex Rodriguez looked like he could have been that guy but then we soon found out that he was no different.
So now what do we have? Where are the guys that play alongside these people and do any of them play the game the right way? Where are the “heroes?”
Derek Jeter: I will admit that the daily festivities leading up to his retirement were a little over the top… but this is a guy who went through the heart of the steroid era and came out completely clean and showed the fans how the game was supposed to be played. Straight up, this guy was a winner. He was a competitor that always stepped it up when it was his turn.
Mariano Rivera: Retired, but still amazing. He became the greatest closer of all time because of a pitch that he never intended to throw. When he couldn’t get his fastball to fly normal, he decided to go with what he had and see what happened. What happened was he was un-hittable.
And then my personal favorite, Josh Hamilton. A can’t miss prospect (No. 1 Overall pick) who was the man picked to become the next Mickey Mantle. This guy who never took performance enhancing drugs but got addicted to cocaine. He was banned from baseball. He came back clean after he turned his life around and ended up winning the MVP award in 2010. I love his story because of all the greek mythology that it resembles, and while he continues to fall he gets back up. Similarly, what made the story of Mickey Mantle so fascinating and such a mythology was his larger than life talent but accompanied by, the one thing, that stood in his way which was an alcohol addiction. The famous question that we ask with guys like Josh Hamilton and Mickey Mantle is wondering what could have been, but sometimes these are the players that are the most attractive to us because despite their flaws they do the impossible.
And now we have Mike Trout: The new player who has been picked to become the next Mickey Mantle. As a 24 year old he has been attributed ROY and MVP twice (as well as runner up twice). Minus the switch hitting ability, the idea that Mike Trout has not hit is prime and could actually become better than he currently is, begs the comparison and is a player that I truly hope can stay the course.
But all this is to say is that steroids villain-ized these players even more and created a plot that almost could not be scripted even if a TV drama tried. Now we are left with a game of imbalance where the temptation is still there and now we wait to see if these “heroes” can stay the course.
There is an imbalance in baseball like no other sport. You have guys cheating you have guys staying clean. You have teams spending and you have teams being forced to save their money. I love this sport, not because it SO EXCITING to watch every second of the game. I love it because of the imbalances and the stories that are generated from those imbalances.
With no salary cap in baseball, there is an economic imbalance with every team spending different amounts on their players. But I will be one of the very few people to say that I am okay with there not being a salary cap in baseball, because it makes the underdogs that much more visible and the front-runners so much more obvious.
I love to hate the Yankees. But I will say that I would not hate them nearly as much if this economic imbalance did not exist.
I love cheering for the underdogs in baseball because there is a clear difference between teams like the Yankees and the Athletics when it comes to playoff time.
I love it because every once in a while, when the stars align, you have small market teams make a push for the playoffs, make a trade at the deadline and put all their chips on the table to have one shot at the title. Because these teams know that young prospects don’t stay young forever and the time to win is now.
This is what I love about baseball, and as the season approaches I am looking forward to what imbalances are defied and which teams defy them.
– Joey Almars