When asked by Mike Greenberg of ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning about the current state of baseball, George Will said he thinks the fans are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for.
Will said that the rewards of success in sports is so high now, that there is an increased temptation to cheat in order to become the best. The bad thing is, the game did not face this challenge until it was forced to.
Considering this, and considering that most of the athletes who used drugs will never come to justice, there is no way we can take away homeruns from these players. This is especially true considering you cannot erase homeruns without also changing pitching stats.
Thus, we cannot put an asterisk in the record books.
So, what baseball is forced to do now because of its inaction in the 1990s, is hope that fans continue to go to the game, and that they judge the records in light of the facts at hand. Will said he thinks baseball fans are smart enough to know who the real record holders are.
Will said that the fans know who the real homerun champs are. They know Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron didn't take any performance enhancing drugs. They know that the evidence points towards Barry Bonds as "probably" taking drugs.
It doesn't take a jury to be guilty in the court of public opinion.
Greenberg said the problem here as he sees it is, in 50 years, is that people may not remember Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron because they are not listed at the top of the home run charts -- Bonds is.
Now, back in 1919 there was the Blacksox scandal where several members of the Whitesox were involved in a gambling scan to blow the world series. Back then, there was an investigation and all players involved were kicked out of the game of baseball.
The punishment here was very controversial, but, according to baseball management at that time, this is what was needed to save the integrity of the game.
But the game was a lot different back then.
And it's not like Bonds was ever found guilty of anything, and he certainly wasn't punished by the game. It is for that reason that I would have to say that I share the same worry that Greenberg has.
In 1919, a baseball scandal was handled swiftly, and the punishment was severe. The Steroid scandal was not handled in a timely manner, and the result was that many baseball records are now held by cheaters.
Personally, I don't think that fans really care one way or another. Baseball attendance was up during the steroid era, and it was even higher last year when the scandal was out in the open. The fans want to see homeruns. The fans want to see lots of offense.
In fact, steroids made the game of baseball more fun. The Blacksox scandal made baseball less fun, especially if you were a Whitesox fan.
Plus there is this argument as Jose Canseco wrote in his book, "Juiced,": steroids don't do an athlete any good unless he has talent first. If you can't hit the ball, you won't get any benefit from steroids. But if you can hit the ball, steroids helps you stay healthy longer, and it makes you stronger.
Now that the game is clean (or supposed to be), attendance is down this year in baseball, along with the homerun totals. And, with the declining home run totals, baseball attendance has diminished too (but not by a significant margin).
I remember being a fan of baseball in the 1980s when 20 homeruns was a lot, and 30 was a ton, and 40 usually won the homerun title. I believe, that unless someone invents an undetectable performance enhancing drug, that baseball will be simplified as it was in the 1980s and before.
Will said that the crooks will continue to try to make performance enhancing drugs that will not be detected, and the good guys will continue trying to invent and discover methods of testing. He said this will be the battle behind the games from this point on.
In 1919, baseball would not have survived if people thought the games were rigged. In the 1990s, baseball was thriving in the steroid era. So, baseball turned a blind eye.
This leaves Major League Baseball with two unanswered questions:
- Will a simplified game of baseball played by clean athletes be able to complete with other sports in our era?
- How will future generations rate the heroes of the steroid era?
The answer will be known only by future generations. Still, I don't' think most people are will judge the game poorly because I think most people don't care either way.
I think if you asked around, most baseball fans would like to see the likes of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons when they visit the Hall of Fame.
And that, my friends, is my baseball thought of the day.