I love baseball. I love it so much that I have been known to watch Devil Rays games--hell, I've attended a few Devil Rays games. I love baseball so much that I say my favorite season isn't summer, fall, winter, or spring, but baseball season. I love baseball enough to have endured several Kevin Costner movies. When I was younger, my grandparents took me to the Field of Dreams farm in Dyersville, Iowa. I remember the day well: I was wearing a pullover, pinstriped Chicago Cubs shirt, and blue shorts. I had a black baseball glove with me, and was so excited to be on that field. I gobbled up ground balls and tried to play the game competitively--enough so that I was upset when we didn't turn a double play. I love baseball so much that it helped me get a full-ride academic scholarship at the University of Iowa; writing essays about baseball can have good effects.
Naturally, the state of baseball right now has its drawbacks. Barry Bonds is two home runs short of tying Babe Ruth for second all-time. I can almost imagine his steroids-inflated head exploding when he passes Ruth. I can imagine the press conference afterwards, when Barry refuses to talk to the media. I can see him, smirking and sulking, something I call "smulking," in the corner, dealing with his own personal psychological and emotional exhaustion. And I don't care. I'm not an asterisk-guy when it comes to records. I'd prefer to wipe their records completely, but I acknowledge that we can still keep Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa in the record books for most home runs hit in a single season, but we know they were cheaters. Pete Rose, who broke the number-one rule of baseball, still is in the record books, and despite his denial of admission to the Hall of Fame, his accomplishments are what they are. He's just a terrible example of a person who destroyed the integrity of his own game.
Bonds and Rose, however, are not the real problem with the current state of baseball. The real problem with baseball is Johnny Damon. I suppose by extension, it's Scott Boras, but not entirely. The salaries are only part of the equation here. Whereas Alex Rodriguez came to baseball a rookie star, Johnny Damon, bursting with talent, developed into a star. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals, and played a mean center field. He was fast, making amazing plays in center, stealing bases, and generating offense for the Royals. He was a Royal, too. I even attended "Johnny Damon Growth Chart Night" at Kaufmann Stadium. Kids in Kansas City loved Johnny Damon. Casual fans of the Royals knew about the guy. There was only one tiny problem: eventually, his contract would come due, and his value would be more than the Royals could place into one person. Think about the Texas Rangers and A-Rod. The Rangers spent so much money on a shortshop that they couldn't afford the pitching. The offense was pretty damn good, the team lost a lot of games 11-9, 12-6, and 15-13. The Royals, recognizing their position and coupled with the fact that early negotiations with Damon weren't going well, opted to trade Damon, in exchange for a closer with control problems and a shortstop prospect that ended up being Angel Berroa, 2003 Rookie of the Year. Of course, enter Carlos Beltran, another fantastic outfielder the Royals couldn't afford to keep.
Damon lasted about as long in Oakland as it took to get signed with Boston. Boost the salary, play the same game. He lasted four seasons in Boston, and then took a better offer from the biggest rival: the New York Yankees. I'm not arguing anything about the Yankee's practices: if I had the money to build the best team money could buy, I'd probably have a similar lineup. The problem is that lost in the shuffle of all of the money, trades, haircuts, boos, and cheers, is that Johnny Damon and the other big stars of the game don't appreciate the game anymore. The Johnny Damon of 2006 is much different from the Johnny Damon of 1999. The team-hopping, money-grabbing players who care nothing about the spirit of the rivalry and the equity of competition, and the owners and agents who perpetuate the market, have lost sight of Johnny Damon Growth Chart Night. They've lost sight of building and nuturing a love of baseball. The Pirates and Royals of the world have become nothing more than jumping-off points for players who start by loving the game and end by loving their accounts and images more.