Sports news this week is once again playing more like a police blotter than a highlight reel, as Major League Baseball makes a major move in the effort to crack down on the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Yankee star Alex Rodriguez was among 13 players who were dealt suspensions on Monday; 12 of those athletes, including three all-stars, were penalized with a 50-game suspension, agreeing not to appeal. Rodriguez, who faces suspension through the 2014 season, is challenging the ruling and can take the field as the appeal process plays out, dominating the baseball news cycle.
In a season where the unlikely rise of the Cinderella-like Pittsburgh Pirates should be the biggest story in the big leagues, baseball faithful from the league commissioner to little leaguers are now focused on this latest scandal.
Certainly, growing up on sand lots around the nation, little boys dream of one day playing professional baseball: hearing their name echoing over the P.A. system of packed ballparks, and the roar of the crowd under the big league lights. These young people don't fantasize about their futures by saying, "I can't wait to grow up and use performance enhancing substances as a professional athlete."
Somewhere between the idealistic dream of fame and fortune on the baseball diamond and the elusive hall of fame, some promising athletes take a terribly wrong turn, turning toward illegal substances to improve performance, avoid injury and/or extend their playing careers.
It isn't hard to see the motivation behind breaking the rules: the pressure to hit as many homers, drive in as many runs and rack up as many wins as possible, while maximizing their earnings during a career with a relatively short shelf life. In fact, most of the athletes suspended will come back to play again and still be millionaires many times over, so where is the real motivation not to use banned substances?
We could hope that a tainted reputation and spoiled legacy would be enough for honorable people to live by the rules, creating a level playing field for all athletes and teams. However, it appears that baseball will have to continue to police its players and hand down even more devastating penalties until it is no longer profitable to cheat.
When Ernest Lawrence Thayer penned the most famous poem in baseball history in the spring of 1888, it seemed the worst thing that could happen to a baseball community would be for their star player to strike out with the game on the line. Today, players are striking out off the field, making poor decisions and hurting the game, its fans and its future.
In the words of Thayer:
"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville"
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.