Welcome to the 16th edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
It’s not often that I come across something in baseball that really sticks in my craw, but this right here did the trick:
Bud Selig says Barry Bonds ‘wasn’t likable,’ recounts ‘misery’ of watching him break home run record in new book https://t.co/tSEBbW5Myi
— CBS Sports MLB (@CBSSportsMLB) July 9, 2019
So remembering Barry Bonds is like “recounting misery,” eh Bud?
Let’s be honest: Barry Bonds wasn’t likable for much of his career. A frigid relationship with the media, arrogantly demanding preferential treatment in the locker room, and steroid allegations will do that. Nonetheless, Bonds is both an icon of the sport and one of the greatest players to ever pick up a bat and glove. Like him or not, he was the epitome of 1990s baseball: swagger, attitude, and power.
There has been much debate over the years as to whether steroids saved baseball. After a series of lockouts and work stoppages that tainted the 1980s, baseball had managed to carry on. That is, until the 232-day players strike in 1994 not only canceled the World Series for the first time in the history of the sport but also alienated fan bases. See, fans will tolerate a lot in baseball. One thing they will not tolerate is no baseball.
Attendance dropped until Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa led a power blitzkrieg across both the AL and NL, and attendance has not seen the lows of the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s ever since. Some attribute that to the sheer fact that there has been a period of labor peace marked by revenue sharing, expanding media, and more offense in recent years. Others will point to the exploits of players such as Bonds and others who threatened longstanding records that had gone unchallenged for decades.
Steroid use was rampant in the ’90s. Anecdotal evidence suggests more players than we’d even like to admit took steroids, and Bud Selig oversaw a league in which possibly more than 30% of players were using PEDs. It was well-known at the time, and the league did very little to curb the issue, presumably because ratings were booming.
Selig can peddle his feigned naivety all he wants if that will help him sell his new book, a mea culpa in which he defends his record on steroids. It’s going to be a hard sell given how obvious it was that prominent players were using at the time and baseball took no legitimate active measures to intervene. After all, why would they? The stands were packed again, and ad revenue was flowing in more and more with each home run Bonds and his cohorts smashed.
I’m old enough to have lived that era as a young adult, and I can tell you from firsthand experience: Most people didn’t care. Fans jaded from all the bickering between players and owners had a reason to enjoy the game again on a level never seen before, and few concerned themselves with the fact that it was artificially enhanced in the same way few people in many areas of the country care about how their food has been genetically modified. As long as it tastes good and it’s cheap, who cares if it causes infertility, accelerated aging, and dysregulation of your genes. It must be damn good pretend-food if goes full Alien: Covenant on your DNA.
How many people are up in arms over the fact that the ball is most definitely artificially modified these days? Have there been boycotts? Has attendance slipped because of it? Oh, you still don’t believe the rabbit ball is a real thing, now?
— Jason Collette (@jasoncollette) July 14, 2019
Coincidence? Come on.
Now, should everyone have cared that players were taking steroids? Of course. For the same reason, you should care about the ball being modified or the fact that Monsanto is more interested in their bottom line and profits for their shareholders than they are about what havoc their herbicides cause on your inner organs.
But most people watch baseball to stop caring. They don’t want to be reminded of the harsh realities of life when they can watch a beautiful game and the loveliest metaphor for life instead. Most of all, they were sick of nearly two decades of fighting, and they just wanted to see players play the game.
Well, it was a grand time, and once it was over and it was time to pay the piper, the Hall of Fame wants to turn sanctimonious all of a sudden. And many of those same fans want to shake their fists in outrage as if they’d been duped, when it was plain as day what in the blue hell was going on out there at the time. Best of all, the guy supervising the whole thing wants to vilify Bary Bonds so he can peddle his book and take one last stab at availing himself of any wrongdoing.
I don’t blame anyone for hating Bonds and his ilk. I don’t blame anyone who says the steroid era leaves a sour taste in his or her mouth.
However, I won’t turn a blind eye to Selig playing the victim, for if he’s telling the truth, he’s so grossly incompetent that he’s done more harm than good to his reputation and his “book” isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on; and if he’s lying, then his hypocrisy knows no bounds, and you’d be hard-pressed to look back at reading a single line of his words as anything other than “recounting misery.”
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
I came across this outstanding dose of good deeds the other day and couldn’t resist featuring it:
Today, some of the families he's touched say thank you. pic.twitter.com/V67yes4XjX
— Infield Chatter (@InfieldChatter) July 12, 2019
First of all, this is outstanding; it’s also a reminder of how baseball players make an impact off the field. With so much talk about domestic violence, PEDs, and other misdeeds committed by players when not lacing their cleats, we don’t always focus enough on the charity so many do on a regular basis. Brock Holt’s work with these afflicted children is incredibly moving, as was their touching response. It just goes to show you how incredibly powerful the relationship between players and fans can be. This is part of why I’ve argued in the past that MLB should focus more on enhancing the in-game experience with fans, where they can truly experience real interface, rather than obsessing over the pace of play, experimenting with rule changes, and messing with the integrity of the baseball.
After all, tell me this isn’t something you want more of in today’s game:
Freddie Freeman hit against Justin Verlander with Joe Buck and John Smoltz talking to him through an earpiece. He struck out, obviously. pic.twitter.com/AQcsoNBKub
— Roger Cormier (@yayroger) July 10, 2019
Of course, there’s a flip side to that …
Yeah mic’ing up guys who are the best in the sport is cool, but the real money is in mic’ing up guys who are frustrated in a slump. That’s where you get the real baseball experience.
— F.P. Santangelo Jr. (@Franky_P_) July 10, 2019
Yeah, I’d be down for that too.
At its core, baseball is a graceful game and a celebration of community forged in common rooting interests among fans and the teams and players they support and admire. Baseball does highlight community outreach, but work like Holt does and the response it generates deserves even more exposure.
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
Rob Manfred keeps insisting the ball has not been altered. Hmm …
The gaslighting is helping no one, Rob. Including you. CBA talks are coming up, and the MLBPA will be very eager to ask why they weren’t consulted on the new ball that doesn’t exist yet clearly does.
Need more evidence?
International League Home Runs, 2018 (whole year): 1555. 2019 (through ASB): 1552.
Pacific Coast League Home Runs, 2018 (whole year): 2097. 2019 (through ASB): 2061.
A total coincidence that these leagues switched to the MLB ball this year, I'm sure.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) July 11, 2019
Speaking of those CBA talks …
MLB players are furious, willing to strike over economic system: 'We're all united' https://t.co/W0yTySchqn
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 10, 2019
Storm’s a’ brewin’, folks.
Tyler Skaggs dominated the week, as he should have.
Tyler Skaggs number is 45.
Mike Trout hit a HR 454. A ball 4 in the 5th inning broke up a perfect game.
Tyler Skaggs birthday is 7/13.
The Angles score 7 runs in the first, finished with 13. And threw the first combined no-hitter in CA since 7/13/91, his DOB.
Sports man. https://t.co/VAJjHp2p2H
— Zach Hanley (@ZachHanley2) July 13, 2019
Tyler Skaggs’ mom throws out 1st pitch and then Angels throw no-hitter!
LA scored 7 runs in 1st, had 13 hits overall. 7/13 would have been Skaggs’ 28th birthday
The last combined no-hitter in California? Oakland on 7/13/91, the day Skaggs was born.
— Dan Roche (@RochieWBZ) July 13, 2019
One more time, RIP Tyler Skaggs.
That’s the ballgame for this week! We’ll be back after the break.
Graphic by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)