On pins and needles

By Chris

Last week, Sports Illustrated reminded me why baseball is such a great sport, because of players like Grady Sizemore. Average, hard-working guys with extraordinary talent going through the grind of a 162-game schedule in a game filled with strategy and skill. Guys like Sizemore appreciate what they’ve earned and author Tom Verducci reminded us in this feature that, unfortunately, these “throwback” players, who dig it out after every at-bat and run down every fly ball, the guys who are in it for love of the game above all else, are far and few between these days.

Verducci seems to be on a quest to move past the negatives of the steroid era, and has used his columns and features to focus on the good of the game. In the few years since the end of the Steroid Era, he’s talked about the reemergence of small ball, what it’s like to go through spring training through the eyes of both a major leaguer and an umpire and has been praising Daisuke Matsuzaka and the improving state of the game internationally.

So how does SI follow up that great Sizemore cover piece? By putting Barry Bonds’ head on the front page, which I now assume is as large as the actual Golden Gate Bridge:

Thanks for reminding me of everything I hate about the game, team salaries aside. This week’s issue also had a tremendous piece about Mike Tomlin (only the third Steelers coach in 38 years and a minority to boot), two articles on Detroit sports teams (the Pistons and the Red Wings, each now in the Conference Finals of their respective sports) and an another article about how Phil Mickelson isn’t a choker anymore (he won the Players Championship last week and was the cover boy for SI’s Masters issue). But who do they choose? The most hated man in America not in an elected office.

Granted the Great Home Run Chase is a legitimate story, but the focus of the article is to let people know that not even the people of San Francisco really care. They’d rather talk about the Warriors and worry about Bonds breaking the record whenever he gets closer. Many will defend Bonds, citing that if he juiced, then the pitching had to be juiced, too, so it’s a wash. Others say that it’s just another home run until he comes within two or three of the record. They seem generally bored with him. The article even has little kids telling the world how much they despise Bonds and hope he gets banned from the game. There really is little local buzz surrounding Barry’s bat. If they don’t care, why should I?

Bonds may say it’s because he’s black and everyone else is racist. Really, Barry? Could you please tell me whose record you’re really chasing? Henry Aaron, right? Isn’t he African-American, too? The racism cry is just a crutch because he doesn’t want anyone to talk about the problems he’s caused himself. Curt Schilling told us that much, but even that was uncalled for, and just threw more gasoline onto the Barry Bonds bonfire. The truth is that there’s so much baggage that comes with Bonds that people are generally just tired of him. From a possible indictment on allegations of perjury to the sacred record, it’s refreshing when SportsCenter doesn’t talk about him for a night.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time the steroid issue will be thrown in our faces, especially as Bonds inches closer to 756. This issue of SI came to my doorstep a week after David Ortiz admitted that he might have taken steroids. After all, who knows what they put in the water back in the Dominican Republic, and on the same day Jason Giambi decided to open his big yapper to USA Today about this topic, saying that Major League Baseball should have stepped up to the plate years ago to apologize for all of the problems that have resulted from the steroid scandal. Hopefully Giambi expects the apology to be more detailed and sincere than the “apology” he gave in 2005. Even at the end of that article, he still refused to talk about it. Way to step up, guys, now please just shut up.

ESPN the Magazine also continues to provide in-depth investigative reports from inside clubhouses about the steroid issue from nine years ago. The cover story of their current issue (another cover of the issue features Chuck Liddell…and UFC is clean, right?) tackles another such report, as the blurb promises to tell us, “how clubhouse gofer’s became baseball’s steroid connection.” It discusses how intimate some “clubbies” have gotten with players, but still no names are really named and it’s all mainly still specualtion. I just don’t care anymore. It’s still far too early to judge the steroid era, anyways, and it will be as long as those central figures involved (Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and so on) are still in the game. For all we know, it may still be going on, since substances like HGH still aren’t being tested for by MLB. Way to be firm on that one, Bud.

So why burden the public about yesterday’s problems when we’re still not even sure how to feel about them? I still don’t know how to feel about Sosa. Should we be happy he’s made it back to the Show, or shower him with boo’s because he’s an alleged user? We just don’t know. Why not just enjoy today’s current crop of stars, like Sizemore and Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Reyes and Cole Hamels? Is it too hard to just sit back and enjoy sports anymore?