Monday, 1 July 2013

How Baseball's Darkest Era Continues to Harm

Slugger...Davis has become a superstar.
As the season's first half draws to a close, Chris Davis continues to astound baseball. The imposing Orioles first baseman has morphed from reliable contributor to full-blown superstar during a tearaway three-month stretch of historical proportions. With a humble demeanor and a workmanlike approach, Davis is presently batting .333, getting on-base at a gaudy .403 rate, and slugging .724. You like the more traditional statistics? Well, Davis has those covered too! He has 79 RBI in just 81 games and, on Saturday, became just the third player in American League history to reach the thirty home run plateau before the end of June. The other two? Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr.

So why isn't Davis receiving the media fanfare and international acclaim which such performances have in the past precipitated? Sure, glossy features have been written about him on the main national websites, and the hyperactive world of Twitter has shown an interest; but Davis is yet to receive the oft-notorious media scrutiny which usually accompany such great seasons. This is yet another cruel manifestation of a baseball record book, culture, and fandom, forever changed by it's darkest era.

Even now, the legacy of widespread steroid usage is distorting the sport of baseball. In the summer months of this exciting season, Chris Davis should be focused on breaking the most sacrosanct single-season records. However, they have been set so far off in the stratosphere, many feel with the use of illegal performance-enhancing supplements, that a 'clean' player like Davis can barely hope to attain them. Whilst acknowledging that Barry Bonds has never been successfully prosecuted for steroid usage, I hold with the hard-line of baseball traditionalists who feel that only a slugger supercharged on a cocktail of drugs can hit 73 home runs in a single season given a previous personal best of 49, or conceive of breaking Hank Aaron's career record of 755 after amassing just 445 through their age-34 season.

Nonetheless, those are the records which, quite inexplicably, still stand in the Major League Baseball record books. The home run records, for both season and career, are the most hallowed marks in the sporting lexicon; they are, however, entirely unattainable after decades of abuse from juiced-up sluggers playing a different game.

It's often argued that Barry Bonds became envious of the fame lavished upon Mark McGwire when, in 1998, he initially broke the single-season record for round-trippers. Nonetheless, McGwire later admitted that performance-enhancing substances aided his assault on the record, an admission which still causes grief to baseball purists. If McGwire could hit seventy only with the help of steroids, then the odds that Barry Bonds was suddenly able to crush seventy-three under his own steam are minimal to non-existent. This is the most saddening scourge of modern day baseball.

If we delve a little deeper, ever more serious problems emerge. Barry Bonds has seven Most Valuable Player Awards, more than any player all-time; more walks than any player all-time; the best single-season marks in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and intentional walks. If, as the overwhelming majority suspect, Bonds' procurement of such records was fueled by an extensive profile of steroid usage, what are baseball records worth any more?

There is a small minority, mostly residing in San Francisco, which claims that steroid usage is relative; that it was so embedded in the sporting culture of a specific era as to be inconspicuous. Many believe that McGwire, Canseco, and Giambi used steroids to gain an edge just like Roe, Shocker, and Leonard used a spitball. However, the use of performance-enhancing drugs transcends the arena of baseball like no other method of gaining a sporting advantage; it is an ethical issue, a moral issue, an issue which can impact the health, lives, and psyche of a whole generation.

I do not profess to have all the answers. Whilst I still see Roger Maris as the single-season home run king, and Henry Aaron as the rightful owner of sports greatest crown, the record books do not. I would like every at-bat of a proven steroid-abuser expunged from baseball history, not merely the at-bats from a certain 'juicing period.' Of course, this will never happen. I would like Major League Baseball to go far beyond an asterisk when attempting to rectify it's bloated record book. Even this merest wish will likely never occur. Therefore, I will be rooting for Chris Davis in the second half of the season, as we all would have been had the past twenty-five steroid-infected years of baseball never happened. I want him to break the true single season records, in a clean and admirable fashion.

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