Baseball Needs No Savior

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.

15 thoughts on “Baseball Needs No Savior

  1. The “muted” interest reflects the fact that a) A Yankee is doing it, and there is a lot of Yankee hatred out there B) It’s Arod, who even before the steroid thing wasn’t exactly getting Sammy Sosa love C) The country has more pressing matters to concern itself with, like a crap economy. Comparing 1998 to 2010 is apples and oranges, anyone remember how good times seemed back then?

    I never got on the “let down” bandwagon. If you can’t recognize the greatness of ARod and Bonds both before and after steroids, stop calling yourself a baseball fan.

    • The greatness of ARod and Bonds before and after the steroids? A) when did before the steriods end? B) can you take steriods and still be great? I can be a “great” stock traded w/ inside information.

  2. I think we agree, to an extent. Baseball doesn’t need a savior, but, I do think that baseball fans DO want the “hero” again. That bigger than life guy that we can brag to our kids/grandkids about.

    Is Albert that guy? Who knows? As I said, I don’t know if Pujols is clean or not and I’m, like you, sick of the whole clean/dirty discussions.

    However, ARod’s ascent IS tainted. No matter he was hitting off of juiced pitchers.

    As far as the interest… it’s muted. The “fans” in CLE were rushing to catch a lottery ticket, not genuine interest in ARod or the milestone.

    Nonetheless, good work and better discussion.

    • As to the “interest” question, I still think you’re falling prey to the same mistakes Johnson and Feinsand are making. You don’t really know if it’s muted or not; at minimum, you’re not providing any examples, any definitive proof, anything real to substantiate the claim that people just don’t care. I think before we go tossing these categorical statements about who cares and who doesn’t that we should have some evidence to back up our opinions. Otherwise we risk falling prey to confirmation bias and groupthink.

      Also, I’m not sure how much more we’re looking for to declare that “people care”. It’s all they talk about on YES, ESPN breaks live to every at-bat, people talk about it on Twitter, the beat writers are talking about it every day, its on and Sportscenter in the morning…what else do we need? A parade before it happens? It’s not even that big of a deal, and people haven’t shut up about it for a solid week. Really, what else is there to signify that “the PEOPLE care”?

  3. Enjoyed the post, Stephen. Very much so.

    but i will say this. i think its easy to understate how much fans would have been on A-rod’s side had we not found out he used steroids OR had A-rod not used steroids all together.

    A-Rod even without the steroids was guy not many loved…but one thing was for sure. Barry Bonds was the bad guy. And whether you liked A-rod or not, before the steroids, he was the good guy vs barry bonds.

    It’s easy to kind brush that off now…but as you say “Five years ago, Alex Rodriguez was going to be the savior of baseball,” and that was a HUGE deal at the time. I don’t think we should lose sight of that when we talk about how steroids have effected these guys and A-rod in particular.

    oh and those fans in cleveland running over to that porch are not the least bit interested in a milestone, IMO. They have 1 thing on their mind…$$$$$. Bout 150K worth if they are lucky enough to snag that ball. lol

    • Your first point is a good one, and it’s definitely part of the picture.

      As to the fans trying to get the ball (and Jason mentioned this in the first comment), I’d only ask whether the fact that they believe they can hawk it for big time money means that there is a market out there for this kind of paraphernalia. If so, wouldn’t that suggest some sort of general “interest” in the feat? I’m not trying to shill for the idea that ‘people care’, because that would just make me a mirror image of Feinsand et al. I just want to try to get an accurate picture of what’s happening.

        • Doesn’t matter what they can actually sell it for or trade it for, what matters is that there’s a ton of people trying to catch the ball. Again, this doesn’t prove anything about the national consciousness, but it shouldn’t be flippantly waived away by calling them money-hungry.

  4. There’s very little that shows that pitchers juicing made any difference in their ability to pitch. Were any guys who threw 95 now throwing 103? I don’t think so, and I cannot see how juicing made any pitchers breaking pitch or change-up better. So the evidence that pitchers who may have juiced and had performance boost is at best minimal. We do know however that the steroid era Barry Bonds had a dramatic increase in HR’s and HR distance, dramatic. Same with many other position players. Basically then, the argument that these juiced hitters were facing juiced pitchers is a red herring.

    I remain very skeptical about Pujols, who is considerably lighter in 2010 then he was in the past. So is Alex [much lighter], and I’ll wager that eventually we will find out that Alex juiced longer and that Pujols also juiced.

      • And Gagne and quite a few others. If there was any intellectual honesty among the sporting press, they’d acknowledge that pitchers probably see more benefit than hitters from steroids. They’d also acknowledge that almost to a man they’re just as complicit as anyone else in ignoring steroid use in the late 90s. They’d also acknowledge that the NFL has a bigger HGH situation than MLB instead of ignoring it completely. None do. They’re full of it.

      • Leaving aside the performance question, just because they thought it would help them doesn’t mean that it did. That’s a faulty line of reasoning. Just because I drink green tea thinking it will help me not get a cold doesn’t mean that I won’t. The effectiveness of the drug isn’t contingent upon what the drug-taker believes will happen. I’m sure you probably meant that the drug-taker probably knows something we don’t, or otherwise they’d have no motivation to take them, but that’s not necessarily the case and its not demonstrably evident.

        Plus, think back to the guys in high school that took steroids. They strike you as the brightest bulbs in the box?

      • Steroids help both pitchers and hitters. But faster pitches and increased bat speed = more homeruns…the measure used when considering these men great.