View from Lodi, CA: Abolishing America`s National Sport: The Decline of Baseball


When June rolls around, I realize
how much I miss baseball.

Oh, I know that the Major League
play started in April. When I`m channel surfing, I catch
a quick look at a player waving a bat or a pitcher
pacing around the mound. Those guys play a form of
baseball but not the game I grew up with.

What I miss is the baseball that
was lovingly called

“the thinking man`s game.”
Players could hit and
run, throw to the cut-off man and lay down a bunt.
Batters knew the value of working the count in their
favor and pitchers set out to go nine.

The players I watched in my youth
performed dozens of these fundamental but vital baseball
tasks. They weren`t the superstars from the New York
Yankees or the old

Brooklyn Dodgers
.

I lived in Los Angeles before the
Dodgers moved west. My team was the

Hollywood Stars
.

The Stars` rivals were the

Pacific Coast League
,

Sacramento Solons
,

Oakland Oaks
, and

San Francisco Seals
. Grizzled managers like Casey
Stengel and Fred Haney didn`t tolerate players who
couldn`t execute.

Los Angeles didn`t have major
league baseball but I followed with a young boy`s
passion the Yankees, my father`s team, and the hapless
Pittsburgh Pirates, the parent team for the Stars.

My favorite players would be
dwarfed by today`s pumped up monsters: Ernie Banks, 6`
1″, 186 lb; Henry Aaron, 6`, 190 lb, Al Kaline, 6` 2″,
184; Roberto Clemente, 5` 11″, 185 lb., Willie Mays, 5`
11″, 185 lb, Frank Robinson, 6`1″, 190 and Ted
Williams, a bean pole at 6`4″, 190.

Earlier this week, I was disgusted
when Sammy Sosa tied

Stan Musial
, 6`, 180 lb., for total career home
runs, 475. Sosa`s name should not be mentioned in the
same sentence with “Stan the Man”, one of baseball`s
superstars.

Does anyone doubt that Sosa`s feats
at the plate haven`t been enhanced by anabolic steroids?
Sosa`s forty pounds heavier than Musial but not half the
player.

Despite tell-all confessions by Ken
Caminiti and Jose Canseco, both of whom claim that over
50% of players take steroids, Major League Baseball
looks the other way. Calls for drug testing—already in
effect in basketball, football, Olympic performers and
horse racing—fall on the deaf ears of baseball
commissioner Bud Selig and union head Don Fehr.

Twenty-two of the thirty major
league franchises report that 2002 attendance is down.
Owners blame 9/11 but if you ask me, if fans want to see
a freak show, they go to the circus not the ballpark.

My separation from baseball has
been slow but irreversible. I was first put off in the
late 1970s and early 1980s when cocaine scandals rocked
baseball. Some of the game`s biggest stars—Most Valuable
Players Dave Parker and Willie Stargell and All-Stars
Keith Hernandez and Steve Howe among them—trafficked in
drugs and admitted tooting cocaine regularly during the
game.

Hernandez estimated that 40% of
Major League players took cocaine regularly.

The 1982 American League batting
champion Kansas City Royal Willie Wilson did a stretch
for possessing cocaine and distributing it to his
teammates.

When Roger Maris hit 61 home runs
in 1961, the baseball czars added an asterisk to his
record. But the record books don`t mention that Wilson
won the batting title while flying on coke. Where is the
justification?

With the drug scandal still fresh
in every fan`s mind, major league baseball proved, in
case anyone had doubts, how little it knows about public
relations. In 1981,
players called a strike
in the heart of the season.
Between June 12 and July 31st, no major
league games were played.

Did you have tickets to take your
kid and all his friends to see the Giants on the 4th
of July? Tough luck; the multimillionaire players were
too busy carping about free agent salaries to be
concerned about your summer plans.

Then, in

1994
, in an even more colossal blunder, players went
on strike from August 12th through spring
training. The World Series, which was even played during

World War II
, was cancelled.

Now, impossible to believe though
it is, players
might strike again
. The particulars are too insane
to even analyze. In a nutshell, the players want free
market conditions; the owners claim that free markets
are killing them.

Neither party has been so bold as
to set a strike date. Players prefer August so that
post-season revenues don`t flow into the owner`s
coffers. And the owners would like to lock the players
out after the World Series when all their money has been
deposited.

Since I don`t watch major league
baseball, I don`t care what the owners or players do.
Now, when I`m gripped by nostalgia for baseball`s glory
days, I take out my 3,000 page

Baseball Encyclopedia
and look up some of those
great names: Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Bob Gibson,
Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts.

I can see them all so clearly.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.