After the flag and bald eagle, what is more American than baseball? If I could pull it off, the Statue of Liberty would have a glove in one hand and a baseball in the other. Baseball is, and always will be, a true American tradition. What America was, is and will be radiates from the diamond.
From baseball diamonds come the heroes of youth all across America, whether it be a home-run slugger, smooth-as-silk base-runner or impeccable fielder. It is doing things right, and better than most, that elevates baseball players to hero status among young athletes and fans. It has always been that way. For decades, baseball players have influenced youth to abide by the rules, achieve their best and accept nothing less.
The glitter is off some of that diamond now as the Golden Age of baseball has given way to the steroid era. Some records have become tarnished and tainted because of players that knowingly failed to show the proper respect for the sport and long list of heroes from Cy Young to Henry Aaron. Others might have the numbers, but baseball purists know that Aaron and Babe Ruth and Roger Maris are the real home run champions.
Kim Fundingsland is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News.
Soon Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees will surpass Minnesota Twins legendary slugger Harmon Killebrew on the all-time home run list. Killebrew played in the era with Aaron, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Mickey Mantle, Rocky Calovito and Carl Yastrzemski. He was one of an amazing roster of 20 future Hall of Fame players who participated in the 1971 All-Star Game. It was the best baseball had to offer.
Now a discovered steroid user -- and he is not alone -- Rodriguez has begun his climb through the ranks of baseball heroes of the past and there is something very messy about it. Records are made to be broken, but rules are made to be followed. Those choosing to support the list of baseball's record robbers like to say that cheating is nothing new to baseball and therefore all records are fair game. That reasoning demonstrates a lack respect and understanding of the game.
Integrity is one of the qualifications for consideration into baseball's Hall of Fame. That's why the Black Sox were banned. That's why Pete Rose is not enshrined in the hall. A pitcher delivering a spitter is not anywhere close to the same infraction as knowingly using illegal drugs to enhance performance. Umpires can enforce rules regarding doctored baseballs and corked bats, but they don't administer drug tests or track illegal gambling.
It is often said that hitting a baseball is the most difficult thing in sports. Supporters of steroid-era players say that even steroids can't help you hit a baseball. That's not true. The use of steroids has extended player's careers, giving them playing opportunities they would never have had without the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Without question, drugs have turned players with "warning track" power into home-run champion contenders.
Examine the list of suspected steroid users of recent years and you will find that as soon as baseball got serious about steroid testing, they couldn't stay off the disabled list long enough to play the game or their numbers tumbled so far that they couldn't remain on a big league roster.
Many baseball owners deserve admonishment for acting as willing accomplices in the steroid era. They provided players with rewards of millions of dollars for taking illegal drugs. Not true, you say? Have you heard a single owner complain about unknowingly being ripped off by a player with a monster contract that was discovered to be on steroids? None have done so. What you hear is poor excuses like, "That's just Manny being Manny."
Baseball's heroes of the past Ruth, Mantle, Killebrew, Kaline, Aaron, Mays, Musial, Yastrzemski, Gibson, Drysdale, Marichal, Seaver had their faults, but cheating the game of baseball was never one of them. Fortunately, a new era of players is emerging in baseball today and they are bringing a new sense of integrity and appreciation for the game with them. Fans and owners like what they see.
Indeed, a new class of diamond stars is emerging, perhaps marking the coming of baseball's second "Golden Age." Best of all, the players will once again be free to insert their accomplishments into the record books without suspicious tarnish and take their rightful places among the legendary heroes of the game.