Hard Ball: The Sad Tale of Big Mac- Ten Years Later

Apparently, this week marks the tenth anniversary of Mark McGwire's memorable season. Big Mac hit his 62nd home run of the 1998 season breaking the longstanding record held by Roger Maris. The local sports talk radio station was asking listeners if they remembered where they were and what they were doing the night that McGwire sent the long ball over the left field wall like it was an event like JFK being shot or 9/11.

I do, sadly enough, remember were I was that evening but that is more because I was struggling with a serious bout of depression, at the time, and spent almost every night in this particular place. As I remember the people in the bar that night, pretty much, went crazy-- similar to the reaction when the Cardinals won the Series. Maybe it was the overall depression but I was not at all impressed with the so-called feat.

Baseball as a whole, needed McGwire to break that record. They needed the race between him and him and Sammy Sosa, that had been building all year, to climax that September night. The climate in MLB was poor before that season. A recent strike had disheartened many fans and there was a shortage of family-friendly stars. McGwire and Sosa got everyday people talking hardball again and became heroes to the kids.

Although I was way too old to be considered a kid by almost anyone and I didn't care particularly for any of the players, I was still a fan of the game, but there was something about what was going on in this circus they called America's past-time that didn't sit right with me. Not that the league was, intentionally, doing something shifty but things didn't seem to add up.

There was a lot of talk, around that time, about the ball being juiced. Statements from the league and Rawling's officials denied the accusations and independent tests from outside parties failed to produce results except a bunch of cork, yarn and horsehide.

Even at that time, if they would've looked at the baseball players instead of the baseballs, they probably would've found their juice a few years earlier than they did during the Congressional hearings on the steroids scandal. I really, really hate the idea that many young peoples' heroes were taken down-- that, in some cases, the truth came out and, in others, the line between truth and lies became harder to find or disappears, altogether. I also hate that legendary players like Hank Aaron and Walter Johnson, as well as thousands of lesser known men, who didn't have the steroids and growth hormone, are being forgotten-- with a career full of statistics being swallowed up and spit out by the modern day likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons.

I am not claiming that the old timers didn't have their own way of gaining an edge. We have to remember that even though it's a game-- it is still big business with big money implications. I know players that used things that "weren't exactly against the rules" to find that edge in much lower levels of organized sports than the Bigs. Even if drug testing cleans the game of all steroids and HGH, (some of) the professionals are going to find something else to stay ahead of the game.

I do believe now, unlike ten years ago, the MLB is serious about cleaning up the sport. All the bad press about these players has the public asking, "How could the league not know this was going on?" Honestly, even if you ignore McGwire's acne problem, look at the size of this guy! Muscles weren't meant to be that big. That's why a bad step out of the box can put a guy on the 15-day IR and why baseball careers are shorter than they were in other eras and so many ex-ballplayers walk with a cane.

Maybe some day they will work out this mess and they can spend all of their time on something really important, like discussions on whether or not to reinstate Pete Rose to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. For me... I'm still a fan of the game but there are very few players that I will root for. Player's don't want to be our kids' role models? News for them: I don't want them to be.

Stick with the Old Time Baseball: When Hardball Was Played Hard. Get the brand new T-shirt at: http://www.cafepress.com/skeetzteez/5966673

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