In 1994, when collective greed forced the cancellation of the World Series, I took delight in renaming baseball "the artist formerly known as the national pastime." Once the game resumed, I mocked every fan running back to the ballparks.
Ten years later, I owe the fans an apology.
What flipped me? How about the NHL failing to play even one friggin' game this year. Work stoppage has finally hit me where I love, and for the first time my emotional buttons are being pushed by a tragedy with no "good guys." Meanwhile, hockey lies dormant while TV executives from ESPN2 to Animal Planet realize they can triple the NHL's ratings with a rerun of the World Series of Poker, dogs playing poker or an infomercial for the Bedazzler.
So, am I prepared to punish the NHL and boycott the game if and when it ever comes back? Absolutely ... not. Because I'm hockey's love slave. There, I said it. Shame on me, but my hockey crisis has softened my judgment toward baseball fans. We're all in this together, because to love a sport is to invite it to play with your head.
Which brings us to steroids.
Baseball committed an unpardonable sin when it canceled the Series. Then it looked to the long ball, often powered by dubiously chiseled shoulders, to win the fans back. Move the fences in, juice the ball, and look the other way when gazellelike, five-tool players morph into WWF stars. And it worked. The nation was entranced by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire's dual pursuit of the single-season home run record, and once again, there was joy in Mudville ... until the time came to bite the hand that revived it. BALCO moves to center stage, a bitter Jose Canseco pens a tell-all book that implicates many, including baseball's freckled messiah, McGwire, right, which leads to a congressional hearing attacking better baseball through chemistry.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Bud Selig wrings his hands and cries, "Who knew?"
Hypocritical? You bet. And speaking of hypocrisy, it's worth noting that cheating via performance enhancers has become public enemy No. 1 in a game that has no problem with its players indulging in performance detractors. The game has long been a movable feast of booze, broads and bennies, yet the lords of the game never took issue with a century of betrayal and heartbreak as fans watched a debauched all-star try to hit a 90 mph slurve while fighting a hangover, crabs and double vision. They certainly never convened a congressional hearing on the dangers road trips pose to fielding percentage, so I say it's time to take a closer look:
Baseball before steroids, baseball after steroids; let's see how they stack up at the Tale of the Tape ...
BEFORE: A byproduct of hand-eye coordination and bat speed.
AFTER: A byproduct of cadaver hormones.
BEFORE: Probably a decent Triple-A player.
AFTER: No.1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
Signs a Player Might Be Cheating:
BEFORE: His cap visor sports more Vaseline than a porn shot.
AFTER: His head just split the seams of his hat - again.
Cheaters in the Hall of Fame:
BEFORE: Gaylord "Spitball" Perry
AFTER: Barry "I Used to be Fast" Bonds
ADVANTAGE: The case for Pete Rose.
No Locker is Complete Without:
BEFORE: Good old-fashioned amphetamines.
AFTER: A screening agent for your next urine test.
Fifty Home Runs:
BEFORE: A career-defining milestone.
AFTER: Typical numbers for a utility infielder.
BEFORE: Booze and broads weaken your legs
AFTER: Back zits pull focus away from your needle marks.
BEFORE: At one point, you had to be white to play.
AFTER: If a cloned sheep could go yard, she'd get called up to the show.
BEFORE: Fans just might get hit with a ball.
AFTER: EPA investigates possible catastrophe when a ball lands on the moon.
Dealing With Losses:
BEFORE: Players tossed back a few.
AFTER: Players toss garbage trucks off buildings.
BEFORE: An old-fashioned donnybrook.
AFTER: The tragic heartbreak of "roid rage."
BEFORE: World Series drama as Kirk Gibson limps to the plate, then hits a walk-off home run.
AFTER: Tuning in to C-SPAN for all the excitement that is a future Hall of Famer pleading the Fifth.
Risks That Come:
BEFORE: Bean balls.
AFTER: Balls the size of beans.
So there you have it it's all so simple when you break things down scientifically. In a damned if you do, damned if you don't photo finish, the advantage ultimately has to go to push. I have no doubt that as I write these words, an underground lab is cooking up a new anabolic syrup that's at least three generations ahead of testing. Why? Because there's a market for it ... just like there was when baseball needed it back in '98. Now if they could just cook up something that could get hockey back to work. ... Until next time, I'm Nick Bakay, reminding you the numbers never lie.