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Baseball Strikes Out (Again)

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Growing up in as a young black male in New York City one of the recurring questions on the racial litmus test pertained to my love of baseball. There was a period of time when there wasn't a stat or obscure fact that I couldn't cite. When friends and I debated greatest teams of all-time I was the only one to routinely invoke Josh Gibson's name as catcher for this all-century team in lieu of more popular players such as Yogi Berra or Johnny Bench. Therefore whenever friends or classmates questioned my blackness, and by extension whether I had the necessary toughness to survive as a black male in New York because of my affinity for baseball, a supposedly white boy sport, I was able to confidently disregard these slights because I knew that baseball was going to always play a role in my life. Moreover, I knew that either by hook or by crook, I was determined to become a sportswriter, or one day my beat was going to be the New York Yankees.

Over time I grew more interested in other sports namely basketball, and other literary and professional endeavors where baseball did not factor in as prominently. As I cultivated these other interests, I still kept abreast of what was happening in baseball and took great pleasure whenever I got a chance to go to a baseball game. Whether it was a New Haven Ravens minor league game or an outing to the legendary Yankee Stadium, whenever I watched a game it was a spiritual experience just a notch below attending church. While basketball, football and hockey arenas always tended to feel a tad bit claustrophobic and increasingly more like a tacky mall, every baseball park that I ever went to always managed to retain a divine quality about them. In a sense I realized that I attended basketball and football games to watch an event, but I attended a baseball game to dream events.

These dreams evolved over time to visions of taking my children to the ballpark, a longstanding desire to complete a road trip of all the major league stadiums, or to at least visit all the ones on the east coast. Occasionally, I'll find myself hankering for cracker jacks, a snack that I for all intents and purposes despise, except when I'm in a ballpark. And I have no qualms about admitting that getting my driver's license ranks a distant second to finally being eligible to order a beer to go with my hotdogs when attending a baseball game.

I was so enamored with baseball that I was able to look past the steroids scandal of the last fifteen years. Most of the players involved were never among my favorites, and I was always one to argue that a lot of the criticism was overblown. However as the years wore on, I became angrier about the toll that the steroids scandal was having on baseball. It has always been my contention though, that steroid abuse is not an isolated phenomenon because it is intricately connected to inflated salaries and profit margins, teams strong-arming municipalities for new stadiums, "prime-time" games and a overall disconnection from the communities they serve. More recently, I have come to see baseball's problems (as with many issues faced in this country) as the result of a collapse in effective ethical leadership.

In spite of all of its problems in the recent past, it wasn't until today that for the first time in my life, I am ready to turn my back on baseball. When I heard the news today that players David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez allegedly tested positive in 2003, while with the Red Sox, I had to finally throw my hands up. I can really care less about Ortiz, (he was always suspect in my book), but Ramirez who I have watched play since he was a student at George Washington high school in New York City has long been one of my favorite baseball players. He's arguably the greatest hitter of his generation and a player who I paired alongside Ken Griffey Jr. my longstanding choice for the greatest player of his generation. I never fooled myself into thinking that I could have a career as a major league baseball player, but seeing Ramirez in high school and looking at the wide disparity between his physical talents on the diamond compared to mine helped me to realize that I was destined to use my talents were with the pen and not coming out of the bullpen a la one of my other childhood heroes Lee Smith.

My brother and I used to fall asleep talking about Ramirez and his acumen as a batter. We were in awe of the fact that he never appeared fazed at the plate. I remember telling him that he should approach his homework assignments like Manny approaches an at-bat cool, calm and with success already at hand.

Major league baseball could care less about me, and I'm perfectly OK with this fact. So my decision to not attend or watch any games for a year after this latest news will hardly effect their bottom line.

But, you know what, if when I get ready to come back and start watching next summer Bud Selig is still the commissioner, it's going to be very hard for me to sign back on again. The players are being rightfully punished whether it's through suspensions or the erosion of their legacies, but Selig has gotten off completely free in spite of his unethical leadership. If news broke at a school or a university that teachers were rampantly cheating, getting promoted in spite of setting bad examples for students and the community at large, not only would those teachers be fired, but so would the university. How, Selig has managed to evade responsibility for what has occurred under his watch is bewildering to me.

Therefore, since my appreciation for baseball runs deeper than my feelings for any player or team, I will merely presume when I return to the sport next year if Selig is still commissioner, then cheating is permitted and will leave my dreams at home because surely they are prohibited.