Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater…

Jayson Stark has a really good article at ESPN about the visceral response America has collectively had to the baseball steroid scandal and why it’s bizarre.

He touches on stuff I’ve talked about here before about why everyone is reacting in such an over the top fashion about hitters taking steroids when other kinds of cheating (such as the occassional spitball or emeryball thrown by a pitcher) are not only accepted but admired.

I have to tell you, I’m sick of home runs. I really am. I think this whole steroid rigarmarole is a product of home run fever. Baseball fans fell in love with the long ball at the expense of every other aspect of the game. Is it really surprising that hitters would then orient their entire being around the ability to knock ’em out of the park? And is it then at all surprising that hitters’ obsession with home runs would lead them to do things that are otherwise detrimental to the game?

I like pitching and I like defense and small ball. Sure, the Angels have Vlad Guerrero and he hits the ball a ton, but frankly he isn’t why they’re such a tough team to beat. Guerrero ‘s occassional home run is special on the Angels because everyone hitting in front of him in the order is a pesky slap hitter who gets on base at all costs. When Vlad jacks one there’s a good chance there’ll be one, two or even three guys on base ahead of him to make that bomb really hurt the other team (like they did on Tuesday night against Oakland). Besides, a skillful pitcher can make Vlad look pathetic. Barry Zito had him spinning in the batters box, flailing at high inside pitches he had no prayer of hitting last night. Zito’s real battles were against guys like Chone Figgens, Daren Erstad (the odious troll) and Orlando Cabrera – all pesky hitters who are hard to strike out.

And just look at the Chicago White Sox this year. They’re all about pesky hitters who get on base and run like the wind making pitchers and catchers lose sleep and grow prematurely gray. Where are the White Sox this year? So far out in front in their division that the rest of the AL Central can’t even see their tail-lights.

If MLB is going to recover from this steroid nonsense they not only need to get the use of these substances under control and recover some credibility they’re going to have to put some serious money into marketing the game that’s going to result from an effective steroid ban – a game where home run hitters are back to being rare. MLB is going to have to show people why a game with no home runs in it is worth watching, because right now the majority of fans don’t see it that way.

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