It’s a sad day for baseball. On the heels of the news of Kirby Puckett’s death, what we’ve always suspected about Barry Bonds now seems to be overwhelmingly exposed. Bonds’ years of maniacal performance-enhancing drug use has now been exposed by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
Worse than the news that my 1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds rookie card will soon be worthless is the fact that yet another of the modern-day “greats” has proven to be a sham. It’s not just a baseball problem either. The behavior of many of the American Olympians at the Turin Games makes one wonder if there are any athletes left who know the meaning of sportsmanship.
Have we seen the end of the baseball card heyday?
The sudden death of Ken Caminiti reminds me of how he was almost one of the baseball heroes of my youth. Sometime in the mid-to-late 1980’s, my parents took my brothers and I to an Atlanta Braves game at Fulton County Stadium. The Bravos happened to be playing the Houston Astros that night, and we were all excited because the “Big Train,” Nolan Ryan was pitching that night.
We arrived at the stadium a couple hours early, and since we were sitting on the Astros side, we went down near the bullpen hoping to catch a glimpse of Nolan Ryan and maybe—just maybe get an autograph. Ryan threw some balls but went inside quickly. Two other Astros were milling around, and I took my brand-new baseball down to the fence, hoping to get it signed. I saw that one of the players was Ken Caminiti, and the other I didn’t recognize. This other person grabbed my ball and signed it, and just as Caminiti got to me, he was summoned from the dugout and he jogged off. No Caminiti autograph for me. Whose autograph did I get? I still do not know to this day. The signature is far worse than any physician’s that I’ve seen.
If I had gotten Caminiti’s signature, it would have undoubtedly made him one of my favorite players. But I didn’t get the signature so my short attention span turned elsewhere. I watched Dale Murphy homer off Nolan Ryan in that game, so Murph retained his “most favored player” status.
Caminiti went on to become an All-Star and an MVP. The tragedy, however was that Caminiti ended his career in shame rather than with the accolades that hard work should reap. He admitted that his 1996 MVP year had been aided by steroids, and that he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol during his career.
Just last week the fallen star admitted to further cocaine use. It’s not a stretch to speculate that this had something to do with the 41-year-old’s death. It’s also not a stretch to say that Ken Caminiti could have done better.
My heart goes out to guys like Caminiti and Daryl Strawberry—guys who have enormous God-given talents, yet time after time, they never can seem to get it together. When I look at them closely enough I realize that they are not all that different from me (save the ability to play baseball on a world-class level!). I stumble just as much, if not more often—though may not be on the same scale, the same source of failure is behind it. It is only by the grace of a loving God that we all do not wander down a path like that of Ken Caminiti. It is only the grace of a loving God that can save us from ourselves. I pray that such grace found Ken Caminiti, and that it finds his family in the time of their mourning.
Forgive this excursion into improper grammar, but it just ain’t right that the National League can’t win an All-Star Game. They haven’t done so since 1996, and don’t even get me started about the 2002 “tie.” I think Roger Clemens must have been working as a double agent, giving up six runs in the first inning.
The only part of the game that I got to watch was Muhammad Ali throwing jabs at Derek Jeter in the pre-game (apparently baseball isn’t just peanuts and Cracker-Jacks these days). After that a storm knocked out our power for the remainder of the night. It’s just as well.
First things first, I love baseball. There are few other sports where one can sit back, relax, heckle the opposing team’s player if necessary, and watch without having to worry about doing the wave(I admit, I really dislike doing the wave). I attended a minor league game last month where the wave circuited constantly throughout the game. Recently, however, the wave is not the only poison to make its way into baseball.
In the past decade baseball has taken a nose dive and it continues to drive itself further into the ground. The 1998 McGwire-Sosa homerun duel breathed a short burst of fresh air into the beleaguered sport, but that bubble burst soon thereafter. Strikes, threats of strikes, high ticket prices, commercialization of ballparks, and now players attacking sausages have all contributed to the displacement of our national pastime.
This displacement reached the pinnacle when at last year’s All-Star game MLB commissioner Bud Selig called the game in the 11th inning because both teams didn’t want to tire out their players. Never mind the fans who had paid $100+ to see a game (remember, ties don’t happen in baseball).
Will tonight’s All-Star game be any different? It purports to be. The winner of the game will receive home field advantage in the World Series. As my father said, commenting on the new “incentive” offered to teams to play hard, “Yeah right! The American league players are all going to play hard so the Yankees can get home field advantage!”
I’ll probably watch at least some of tonight’s game. But still I doubt I’ll see anything like the All-Star game where Fernando Valenzuela struck out 7 of the 9 AL batters he faced. The days of the tough-as-nails athlete are dwindling. I suspect that there will be a lot of guy out there wanting merely to take care of themselves. Oh that guts would be brought back to the game…