Who Will Save the Game Next?
This October will mark the 90th anniversary of when baseball first lost its innocence as a result of the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series.
Aside from the romance that often goes with â€œShoelessâ€ Joe Jackson in movies such as Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, and other lore involving him, I had rarely seen comments about the 1919 scandal in the mainstream media in recent years. All that has changed, though, as players like A-Rod and Manny Ramirez race back and forth in their real life rundown between what the media reports and what they claim is the truth. I have seen references from ESPNâ€™s Jayson Stark and documentarian Ken Burns comparing the damage done due to the 1919 scandal to what steroids are doing to the game now as more big names are exposed.
Just as a 25-year-old by the name of Babe Ruth joined the Yankees in 1920 and rescued the game from what would be the fallout from the 1919 World Series trials and the resulting lifetime bans, baseball today was going to get the same. Once again, a Yankee would step forth and rescue the game, only this time from performance enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez could right the wrongs done to the most sacred record in all of sports itself by one day replacing Barry Bonds atop the all-time home run list. This time, though, the gameâ€™s supposed savior would be found to a past-user of PEDs, and with that, hope was lost once again.
I struggle to see where the game goes from here and the type of person capable of saving it. Instead of telling my young boys about the glory years of the baseball I watched, I will be explaining about cheats and liars and how some records are not truly records. I am jealous of those who had the benefit of passing on tales of Willie, Mickey, and The Duke; our generation gets Big Mac, Bar-roid and A-Roid.
There is one player, though, with a compelling story. He plays the game the right way, captures the peopleâ€™s attention with his God-given ability and crosses that critical line in sportsâ€”getting the attention of people who are not necessarily fans of the game itself. His name is Josh Hamilton. Why would I want to put such a burden on the shoulders of a confessed drug addict? Someone who fell short of being there as a husband and father? My response is simply that he is a real person. Many of us can relate, though maybe not directly, but through friends and family, what it is like to see a life ripped apart by drugs, alcohol, other destructive addictions or behaviors. All you want is to see that person get help and have a chance at some type of life. And who among us has not felt at some point that they have not lived up to what it means to be an adequate son or daughter, parent or partner? I know I have.
You know the story of how Hamilton has fought back from multiple failed rehabs, overdoses, and family troubles caused by his addictions. But there is something genuine about him; I believe it is because he went through it all before he became a major leaguer. He has no sense of entitlement about him, unlike so many other players; he makes no excuses about what he did and blames no oneâ€”how refreshing. He thanks God and his grandmother for getting his life back on track. He has made amends with his wife, and even founded his own ministry. Between the lines on the field you see that big smile after he homers or makes a great play; the one that says, â€œI canâ€™t even believe I am here.” You see support from his teammates that bring back little league memories of when you pulled for your friends.
A majority of fans canâ€™t relate to the PED user who signs the contract worth millions and offers up â€œI didnâ€™t knowâ€ or â€œI wanted to live up to expectations of my contract.â€ But they can relate to the person who tried and failed multiple times, but eventually clawed their way back. The first brick was laid when he was a Rule 5 draft day trade to the Reds, the next was the memorable All-Star game home run hitting contest when he created quite a buzz in the media. This summer I will be rooting for him and the Rangers because nothing would be better for the game than to have Hamilton in the national spotlight in a quest for a pennant and World Series appearance.
Yesterdayâ€™s heroes were bigger than life, shot on black and white film; their stories woven by sportswriters in newspapers. Today you canâ€™t even tell who the heroes are because over the last 10-15 years everything is rightfully questioned. Although I know the game will never be like it once was, I believe that tomorrowâ€™s heroes are still out there. I believe that baseball can be saved by a real everyday person like Josh Hamilton who just loves the game, because in the end isnâ€™t that how the true fan feels?