Slowly but surely, there's a civil war brewing within baseball. On one side, there's the media, who have taken it upon themselves to decry the evils of steroids and protect The Integrity of the Game. On the other, there are the fans — who just want to watch baseball.
The Steroid Era is on the way out, right? Foolproof testing and strict penalties are in place. Baseball is a clean game once again.
But writers everywhere continue to force the issue. Steroids are being thrust into the headlines every week. A positive test here, an inflammatory comment there. You can't name a modern baseball superstar that hasn't been linked to steroids — if not by official accusation, then at least by speculation. Is Albert Pujols using? Is Ryan Howard? Is Prince Fielder? No one has any evidence, but that doesn't stop the conversations from coming up.
It's a media-driven discussion, and you'd think all the newspaper columnists and talk-show hosts out there would be smart enough to gauge what their consumers want before hyping up baseball's obsession with PEDs. But it's really not clear whether anyone's truly tried to answer the simple question: Do baseball fans care at all about steroids?
Last Thursday, David Ortiz stepped to the plate in Fenway Park just hours after The New York Times had broken the story of his positive test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. He was under more scrutiny than anyone in sports that day, but that didn't stop him from facing the pressure head-on. In the seventh inning, Papi hit a go-ahead three-run homer to propel the Red Sox, who went on to win the game 8-5.
The fans loved it.
And they still love him.
Whether fans still care about the cloud of PEDs hovering over baseball is a complicated question. It's near certain that the average casual baseball fan on the street doesn't share the same moral outrage that your run-of-the-mill crotchety old journalist does. Most fans aren't concerned with the "sanctity" of baseball — to most, baseball is a children's game that has at times gotten a little carried away with itself.
We all want to see a clean game. That's not up for debate. But at this point, all a true baseball fan should want is for us to move on.
Boston applauded David Ortiz on Thursday afternoon because Boston is rooting for him to get through this. Much like Mark McGwire, we're not here to talk about the past. Not anymore, anyway.
What happened in 2003 was unfortunate for the game. Baseball's survey testing has brought down four of its biggest stars — Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa. The game will never be the same now that those four names have been dragged through the mud.
That's how the media likes it, right? It's big scandals and tarnished legacies that make headlines. Good, clean fun never made any papers go flying off the newsstands.
But what does the fan want? The true fan wants to move on. The true fan wants to forgive Big Papi and forget about whatever happened six years ago.
What Papi did was wrong, but at a certain point the past should be forgotten.
The only problem is that no one can ever forget the Red Sox teams of 2003 and '04. Those Sox are forever a part of baseball lore, and it's a shame to see them tarnished.
But rather than singling out the game's stars for their misdeeds during a corrupt era, it makes more sense simply to blame the era itself.
Baseball has been through a lot over the past decade. And no one in Boston likes seeing David Ortiz dragged into the middle of this. Those who love the game most are pulling for Papi, and for Manny, and even A-Rod. They're pulling for everyone to move on.
Instead of focusing on their own moral outrage, real baseball fans focus on baseball.
Makes sense, doesn't it?
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