Earlier today, Jason from It Is About the Money, Stupid posted an article about whether Albert Pujols would be baseball’s savior, “the one who restores our interest in home run milestones”. He quotes liberally from Roy Johnson of ESPN NY. Johnson assumes the familiar “let me tell you how it is” tone and states categorically that fans don’t care about Alex Rodriguez’s home run. But Johnson takes it a step further, writing:
In one sense, we fans are a scorned love. Our hearts were broken and we’re just not going to let ourselves go there again, at least not anytime soon.
Well, we just don’t dig it anymore. At least not that way. And there’s enough blame to go around for everybody, including A-Rod.
It’s hard to say if Jason wholeheartedly agrees with this sentiment, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth. He does go on to say though that Rodriguez’s ascent up the home run leader board is tainted, and that Albert Pujols has the ability to restore our faith in baseball. I’ve since taken this up with him on Twitter, and he argued that what baseball seems to want, or need, is “the hero” and that we can’t wish the problem away.
As I told Jason, I have several problems with this entire discussion. For one, it’s presumptive of Roy Johnson to try to “speak for the fans”. I tackled this before when we saw Feinsand and others do the same thing. Capturing the zeitgeist of baseball culture is more than taking your opinion and projecting it on to the masses. Further, is there honestly a lack of buzz surrounding the chase for 600? To me, Yankee fans seem pretty excited. I can’t watch ESPN for more than 10 minutes without hearing about it. And I saw plenty of people packed into Progressive Field last night in the hopes of witnessing or even catching the home run. But since I haven’t taken any polls or done real research, it wouldn’t be fair for me to presume to speak for whether “fans” are excited. The same goes for Roy Johnson.
Secondly, talking about Pujols as baseball’s savior only legitimates the idea that non-users are on a different moral and/or historical level than users. This notion makes me uncomfortable. We don’t know how many players used steroids. We only know that Rodriguez did because someone illegally leaked his name off a list of positive steroid tests, a list that was supposed to be anonymous. We don’t know the other players that are on the list, and we may never. If the biggest and brightest stars of our era are on that list and we never know, then we’ve believed a lie about which performances were more real and more significant.
Most of all, this is a tired conversation. Five years ago, Alex Rodriguez was going to be the savior of baseball, the one that would bring baseball out of moral turpitude and restore the innocence of its halcyon days. Then Alex admitted that he too was juicing. Whoops. Now we have to look to Pujols? A year ago Joe Posnanski was selling us the same story, telling us that Pujols “won’t let us down”. If we find out that Pujols was juicing all this time, do we go actually allow ourselves to feel “let down”? Do we act like jilted lovers and talk about how we’re not going to get our hopes up again, before giving our hearts over to Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg, as long as they don’t use steroids? And if they do too, do we look to the next rising star and hold them up as the Way Forward?
If there is a credibility gap in baseball, if fans are afraid to love again, if, in other words, baseball has an image problem, then it’s self-inflicted. We’re selling the wrong stuff and we’re unable to move on. We’re responsible for the image problem if all we talk about is Rodriguez’s positive test in 2003 and how no one cares about 600, about how Barry Bonds was a giant-headed villain, and how the summer of 1998 with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire was just one big lie. We can’t ignore the past, to be sure. It’s a part of baseball history now. But if we continually tie the redemption of baseball to our new favorite star not using steroids then we’re setting ourselves up to be the dog that constantly chases its own tail. Sooner or later, everyone disappoints. It’s what you learn when you become an adult, and it holds true for baseball. So let’s change the conversation. Let’s not sell Albert Pujols on the condition that we never find out he took some exotic steroid on his winter vacation. Let’s just sell Albert Pujols. Let’s sell the sweet swing of Joe Mauer and Justin Upton. Let’s sell the story of Jason Heyward. Let’s sell the Tampa Bay Rays. Let’s sell Manny Ramirez and Mannywood, and Alex Rodriguez and the villainous New York Yankees. Let’s let the game be enough and stop pretending that baseball needs a savior. Baseball is alive and well, and it’s right in front of our eyes.
Well, except in Kansas City.