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Major League Baseball continues on a downward spiral

In his short story, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of a man who is hypnotized and put into a deep trance just as he is dying. Because his mind is engaged by the mesmerist at the moment that the body fails, M. Valdemar lives on in a shadowy state, aware that he is dead, but still somehow conscious and communicative.

Not unlike Major League Baseball.

I was blessed to be a baby boomer growing up in Southern California in the 1960s, when the Dodgers were kings and baseball was something that was talked about and played every day of the year. I worshipped Drysdale and Koufax and marveled at Mays and Mantle. I memorized stats and quoted Vin Scully. I even taught myself how to do math in my head after reading about a guy who could hit a ball and calculate his new batting average by the time he got to first base.

I know, I know--I must have run really slowly at first. Well, I still do.

Then, like a lot of people in my age group, I began to sour on the game. First, there was the greed, and then came the greed, and finally, the greed. By the time the strike of 1994 rolled around, I had been purged of all good feelings toward the game. Nowadays, I might watch some highlights on SportsCenter, and I can tell you who won the World Series the past few years, but that's about it. And also nowadays, greed is one of the least of baseball's problems.

Major League Baseball has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. Attendance is still not up to the levels of the pre-strike years, but casual fans seem to enjoy what passes for baseball these days--tape-measure home runs hit by chemically enhanced monsters.

I read recently that a growing number of baseball enthusiasts--still a minority, but growing steadily--believes that there is really nothing wrong with players using steroids and other performance-enhancing substances. An astonishing 20 percent of respondents said that they don't mind if players use steroids, as long as the games are exciting.

I grew up believing that sports build character. Even if, as the cynics believe, they don't build character, but rather they merely reveal it, sports still have value. There are rules and consequences, and a framework for individual effort and team play. There are so many wonderful things about sports, but in the end, it still boils down to being just a game.

But now, for one out of every five baseball fans, it's not even that. Steroids and andro and all the rest of that garbage are nothing more than ways to cheat. And if the followers of baseball feel that it's perfectly OK to cheat, then baseball is no longer a sport; it's professional wrestling. They shouldn't even keep score any more. Or maybe they should just tell us what the final score is going to be before the game even starts, so we can decide whether we want to watch it.

I would have been stunned if one out of 100 fans had said that it was OK to use steroids. And one out of five? I grieve for a sport gone irretrievably wrong.

What would happen if it were discovered that an umpire were cheating in order to influence the outcome of games? His name would live in infamy, and he would live, for a time, in an 8-by-8 cell. And yet, a growing (pun intended) number of players are cheating every day, and the idiotic fans shrug and wink. It's sick.

Barry Bonds, whom I despise, was on TV the other day, being asked about how his personal trainer is looking at serious prison time for distributing steroids and other illegal substances. Bonds, feigning compassion (as he feigns all human emotions), said that he felt bad for his friend, but what did that have to do with him? Then, he said smugly, "They can test me every day if they want," knowing full well that, thanks to a union that is infinitely more concerned with dollars than with integrity, "they" cannot test him.

Where is the outrage that cheating has become institutionalized? Where are the clubhouse leaders who take a moral stance against the pervasive culture of anything goes among their teammates and opponents? And where exactly is baseball heading?

In Poe's story, when the mesmerist/narrator finally releases M. Valdemar from the spell, he notices that "his whole frame at once--within the space of a single minute, or even less--shrunk--crumbled, absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome--of detestable putridity."

Sound familiar?

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