We Must Kill Baseball to Save Baseball

What happened to baseball? As a kid, I loved the sport (didn’t everybody?). We watched regular guys turn into superheroes, talked about legends of the past and imagined what it must have been like to catch a game at Ebbets or Crosley. These giants stood before us chewing tobacco, rubbing pine tar on everything in sight and occasionally doing things that seemed to far eclipse what the human body should be capable of.

Then, in 1994, Major League Baseball went on strike. It certainly wasn’t the first time such a thing had taken place (the eighth, actually), but it was the first time I’d ever been forced to live in a world void of non-stop Cubs/Braves coverage on WGN/TBS. As a kid, I was downright angry and vowed never to return to the game I loved. Growing up in a region where even the upper-crust of society would find themselves middle class at best in major metropolitan areas, the idea of someone throwing a tantrum for making even the league minimum seemed greedy and childish. I didn’t support that, and I wasn’t coming back.

Of course, I sucked it up and eventually came back. I never had the zeal of a 12 year-old, but I still managed to rile up just enough enthusiasm to care. I’d catch a game here or there, keep up with what was going on, cheer for teams I liked… just a casual baseball fan. Something changed in the ol’ brain right around the time that the single-season homerun race was really getting heated. McGwire and Sosa were chasing an important record, and I’d missed damn near the whole thing… that was it, I was getting back into baseball.

I started watching games, getting excited, learning new names and numbers, etc. Then, as if to knock me back down from my pedestal, baseball decided to slap me in the face yet again. This time it wasn’t greed (or maybe it was… you could make the argument); this time it was drugs. The very thing that brought me back into the fold was now tainted by steroids, HGH, pixie dust or whatever you’d like to believe. Either way, it wasn’t on the up and up. And as I sit here today getting updates from a friend perched in front of a television, I see one of the great legends of my time be put on trial for the same offense. It now appears that Roger Clemens may have been as doped up as Rush Limbaugh in a Thai brothel during his later years in the big league.

In response to all of that, I propose the following… a three-year ban on professional baseball in the United States.

Since trades have been made and plans set into motion, we’ll play this season out. However, at the end of the 2008 MLB season, shut the doors, lock the gates and ban the game for three years. Every professional goes back to the minors, the record books are sealed “as is,” and a new generation of baseball is born. We’ll have the Old Testament and the New Testament in the majors, prohibiting any more juiced up psychotics from tearing down hard-earned records from the past.

Sure, this sounds rash, but let’s think of the benefits that could come from a three year moratorium on Major League Baseball:

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1. The talent can only improve, the whining can only dwindle. Sure, the idea will generate more than a little bit of complaining from overpaid stars throughout the majors, but isn’t it safe to say that they have (or at least SHOULD have) enough money tucked away to survive for three years? After our three year ban expires, each team can bring the best available talent up from their farm teams, perhaps giving a shot to younger guys that deserve those spots while weeding out a few “veterans” that are only hanging on due to inflated contracts or warm and fuzzy feelings.

By tossing everyone back into the lowly minors, pride must be shelved and the almighty dollar must be put aside in trade for a genuine desire to play the game. With roster spots clearly on the line, apathetic players will take the field with the intensity of rookies while overcompensated drama queens may just take their bat and go home. Personally, I’d be happy to see the retirement of a few league prima donnas usher in a new wave of talent and intensity that is often sorely lacking in the game today.

2. Rejuvenated lineups make outsider teams contenders. Teams like the New York Yankees will find themselves in a bit of a pickle. Instead of simply buying out the best player from a competing franchise, they may actually have to scout and develop players from within their own organization. This kind of economic and reputational parity will allow for some of our loveable underdogs to use genuine scouting and managerial skill to eventually field a team more evenly matched with the high priced squads of the past. After all, does anyone see most of those aging all-star Yank players sticking it out through three seasons in the minor leagues?

The eventual drafting of squads would be the most exciting event in sports’ history, as we all watched team after team create the stars of the future. Suddenly teams like Cincinnati and Kansas City could find themselves in the playoff hunt, and we may finally be rid of the Yankees (at least for a few seasons). This sudden spike in talent and “getting to know you all over again” atmosphere could cause attendance and interest to soar in markets that currently find themselves flailing in both departments.

3. Drugs be damned. Within three years I’m certain that we can not only find a way in which to test for performance enhancing drugs, but also compose a more complete list of banned substances. Since the HGH fiasco has proven that the problem is greater than the simple steroids of the past, Major League Baseball can spend some of the cash tucked away in their empire to further science and determine what harmful chemicals could taint the stars of tomorrow. Thus, future records may be secured and past records may survive.

The solution is simple, just look at baseball as an Old Testament and a New Testament (or BC/AD for those non-religious folk). The past stands as it is, untouched, while the new record books are blank slates. This allows for new rules and procedures to be implemented in the “time off,” allowing for great changes in the game that will in no way affect the accomplishments of the past.

4. Shrinking the league. Honestly, are all of these teams really necessary? The baseball ban would force certain teams to take a hard look at their place in the game and determine whether or not their franchise could/should weather the storm. In an effort to draw larger crowds and new fans, baseball has been tacking teams onto the league like tails on a donkey at a five year-old’s birthday party. The idea of maintaining a team with no players for three years will simply be too much for some franchises, and those less important teams will likely make their exit (I’m looking at you, Devil Rays).

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On the other side of the coin, the renewed interest in the game could show strong roots developing in other cities. For every Tampa that closes the door permanently, we may discover a dramatic rise in attendance for AAA games in cities like Nashville, Louisville, New Orleans or Indianapolis. The sudden influx of big name talent into small-time baseball towns could result in a new age of the game, building large followings in otherwise overlooked cities, which brings us to reason five…

5. Renewed interest in the game. A kid growing up any of these AAA cities can now have the experience of watching the game played at its highest level, possibly for the first time. Someone in Scranton may head out to the ol’ ballpark to see Alex Rodriguez in person, only to discover a youngster that he or she may have never been familiar with. Suddenly there’s a team atmosphere again, void of ridiculous contracts and hysterical ticket prices. This would lead to a merchandising bonanza for teams that may otherwise only sell a handful of jerseys in their city of origin, generating massive tax revenues for towns in desperate need of a boost.

The game could be returned to the fans, played in its purest form and could successfully rejuvenate a sport that now requires a major Cinderella story each season to avoid being taken off of life support. The players would be almost forced to become more grounded, and an entirely new generation of baseball fans could get to know the game without the attitude, without the obscene salaries and most importantly without the drugs (remember the mandatory testing… you won’t be getting back into the pros if you’re on anything stronger than Advil).

Of course this is largely just a pipe dream, completely out of the world of reality and completely impractical. But the very fact that it crossed my mind is what makes the entire issue so urgent. When I was a kid, baseball was important. I cared about players, traded cards, went to games and obsessed over details. There was a bond between the old and the young, as they discussed whether or not George Brett was fit to carry Brooks Robinson’s bat. The game meant something. Now, we’re stuck wondering how much it will eventually hurt to regale our kids with stories about what the game was like BEFORE the drugs and the agents destroyed it.

While banning the game altogether may be a rash move, it’s just another in the long line of “you’ve got to kill it to save it” plans that never amounted to anything. I just hope that those with more power and more practical ideas than I have an ace up their sleeve. If not, I worry that we’re doomed to suffer this ongoing tragicomedy for years to come. Oh where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Indeed.

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2 Responses to “We Must Kill Baseball to Save Baseball”

  1. Greg Says:

    I’ll be as unbiased as I can, seeing as how baseball to me is the greatest game ever invented. Baseball has been a constant in our society for over 100 years. 8 months out of the year you can count on these guys going out and putting on a show. Granted this show has been tarnished with drugs and performance enhancers, but its still a show; and the show must go on. In a make believe world this would be great, take a few years to weed out all the negatives and bring back a group of guys so eager to get out on the field that you can see it in their faces; but that won’t happen. I blame no one but the dirty players themselves. I know its hard to believe but there are genuine guys out there who stay within the limits of the law and do what they have to do to excel. There are those who cheat and then once they get caught they cheat some other way. In the proposed 3 years, both sides would make great strides in the detection and prevention of detection of performance enhancing drugs. The game is tarnished quite possibly beyond repair no matter what strides are taken.

    I am the biggest baseball fan I know, and I believe that time and only time can fix this. This dark age of Major League Baseball can’t be fixed, but it can be forgotten. Instead of having hearings where there can be no punishment, I say we threaten them with the Wrath of God and penalize them. Show them that just because you give us your supplier, it doesn’t mean your saved. A lot of people will turn their back on the game, and I tried to be unbiased, but no can do. I love the game, I love everything about it…I dont accept the use of drugs but I can plainly see that MLB is going the wrong way of cleansing the system. All they want to do is talk to you, it’s just like the public school systems. I make one proposal, if you get caught with performance enhancing drugs, the commissioner of the league should get to paddle you, with a Louisville Slugger. I think that would fix baseball forever, and if not, then at least I got to see someone get the hell beat out of them by Bug Selig (just imagine the likelyhood of that happening without a bat).

    I’ve rambled on a subject that I couldn’t even begin to completely process. The thought of no baseball for 3 years is horrible. I hate the offseason and it’s only 4 months. I couldn’t handle 3 years. Let me leave you with this thought, would you really want Vince McMahon to see another golden opportunity to save a sport with his own version? You know it would happen, and it would be your fault. I damn you for even making me have to think about that Cory, I damn you.

  2. Cory Says:

    Aww, c’mon Greg, tell me you wouldn’t like to see the XLB on USA every Sunday afternoon? I can’t really imagine what would be involved in such a thing, but I’d imagine it would be slightly interesting at first, get old quickly and then become completely unbearable after about a month (using the XFL as a model).

    Just look at it like a brushfire. Sure, if your home is in the way of the brushfire it’s REALLY going to suck… but without one from time to time it begins to suck for everybody.

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