Another generation is succumbing to age and other factors and exiting the game they helped advance. But, is this old generation causing the game’s image to backslide?My grandmother can remember the old days of baseball. Of standing in the heat of midday Arlington, Texas, to get Mickey Mantle’s autograph. The Roger Maris record. The greatness of Joe DiMaggio, Teddy Ballgame, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and others. The great generation of baseball, the rise of the Mets, the dominance of the Yankees and the rise of the Steinbrenner era. The days of 56 game hit streaks, .400 hitters, and the days when baseball players were untouchably clean. Yet, the generation of baseball that I grew up with started off with good intentions and soon turned into the Untouchables for another reason.
The guys like Canseco, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Randy Johnson, and others who gave the game a face, an identity different than the era of Mantle and the like, became the new greats. They were blasting home runs, stealing bases, striking out ungodly amounts of hitters, and combusting every record known to man. Yet, in the naivete of the fan, these guys were just blessed with great baseball ability. Little did the fan know, this was not all God’s doing. The substances were those found in the human body, but were badly manipulated and hyped up to make an athlete into a god. Human Growth Hormone, the hormone that kicks in around puberty causing us all to grow tall and strong, can cause huge rippling muscles if used when working out. Testosterone, the male hormone, gives a man his hairiness and his deep voice. Yet, used in large quantities, turns a man into a Herculean figure capable of massive strength. These are just two of the substances used to turn a man into a mammoth.
This generation is retiring, slowly and surely. Some are switching to alternate roles to stay in the game. Some, like Julio Franco, have given all they have and have nothing left to give to the game that made them millionaires. Bonds, the leader in career home runs, was released at the end of the season and was not given a contract by anyone. Clemens, who has yo-yo’ed with retirement, now faces some very strange controversies that have called his reputation into question. Sosa has fizzled out, Mark McGwire simply wore his body out, Rafael Palmeiro decided to just sit down, and Jeff Bagwell went from Big Papa Pump to Powder Puff in less than a year. He lost almost all of his muscle and looked like someone let the air out of him.
Now, there are some players that continue to play because they are able to. John Smoltz continues to dominate, and, although injured at the moment, still shows nasty stuff on the mound. Ken Griffey Jr. keeps going, and still has the bat speed to compete in the league. Frank Thomas is still tearing the cover off of the ball, and can make a pitcher antsy in tough situations. But, has this generation tarnished the game made the American Pastime by the likes of Mantle, DiMaggio, Williams, and the like?
Every time you turn around, the big names are hit with another controversy. Clemens and a 15 year old Mindy McCready. Canseco and a home foreclosure coupled with a book that many are calling ludicrous. Pettitte and his HGH. Some of the major fan favorites are becoming targets of the boos. I think the only thing saving this game are the young guys coming up and playing the game with honor and valor, not roids and cheating. Guys like Troy Tulowitski, Clay Bucholtz, Yunel Escobar, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and others who have come in and are transforming the game with natural ability (as far as is known). It’s at least nice to think so. That is the sad part of this: the Canseco generation have put that doubt in the back of our minds. Are these guys doped up? Is that natural talent or roid generated? That is the tarnish these guys leave behind.
I will be happy when these guys are a memory and the new blood has taken over baseball’s veins. It is about time for a new set of heroes, ones who prefer to play the game, not juice it.