By GAVIN LAPAILLE
Gold Standard Sports Editor
I remember exactly where I was when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record.
Things were different in 1998. I had to watch McGwire’s homer on my parent’s standard definition television like some sort of prehistoric caveman because high definition wouldn’t exist for nearly a decade. I didn’t get an instant alert about the record on my cellphone, because phones weren’t capable of such mechanisms. I couldn’t post my reaction on social media for all of my adoring followers, considering Facebook and Twitter were a long way from taking over the Internet. And perhaps most importantly, I had never heard the phrase “performance-enhancing drugs.”
Back in that glorious summer, naive preteens didn’t choose between Team Edward or Team Jacob. You were either Team Mark or Team Sammy, MLB’s two biggest stars who made the chase for Maris’ record must-see television.
I was a full fledge member of Team Sammy and Sammy Sosa, the flamboyant right-fielder of the Chicago Cubs. I liked Sosa’s flare and his kiss-heart-kiss-heart routine after every home run. He was fun and exciting, complete opposite of the robotic personality I associated with McGwire.
The ‘98 home run chase is one of my first vivid sports memories. While those times have long been tarnished because of the player’s association with steroids, I still smile when I think about the excitement and feelings those two gave me, and the dismay I felt watching the evil McGwire beat Sosa to the record.
Things have been downhill for baseball ever since. Nowadays no one should be surprised to hear of any player facing steroid repercussions, and acronyms like PED and HGH have become more synonymous with the sport than RBI or OBP.
Alex Rodriguez and the Biogenesis scandal might be the biggest black-eye in a series of well-timed left hooks superstar players continue to throw at the MLB. But while Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and McGwire certainly hurt their personal reputations, the Biogenesis scandal tarnishes the MLB more than it hurts A-Rod.
I applaud baseball’s efforts to clean up the sport. Every year we hear about how stringent the league’s testing policies are, and star players voice their pleasure regarding the emphasis on evening the playing field. That’s a good thing.
By suspending players associated with Biogenesis, MLB has proven their policies aren’t working. The league found enough evidence to link 17 players to the Florida clinic. Of those 17, only three had tested positive under MLB’s tests.
Going by that ratio, the MLB is catching less than 20 percent of cheaters with their current system. That’s a far lower success rate than anyone would hope or expect.
I don’t blame Rodriguez for challenging Commissioner Bud Selig and the 211 game suspension he has been handed. The players agreed to more rigorous testing in the new collective bargaining agreement, and Rodriguez has never came up positive. So why should Selig suddenly have the right to suspend him now? Why didn’t baseball’s own tests prove Rodriguez’s guilt?
No one thinks Rodriguez is innocent, but he does have $95 million reasons to fight anyway. I was slightly disappointed the walk-up song for his first at-bat Monday night wasn’t the soulful lyrics “Money, Money, Money, Money, MONEY!” from the O’Jays ‘70s hit song “For the Love of Money.” It’s clear money is the only thing keeping Rodriguez going, and his pursuit is making the game, league and the New York Yankees hostages in the meantime.
If baseball wants this to ever go away, they would hand Rodriguez a check and hope he never comes back. But Selig has bungled this entire ordeal, threatening a lifetime ban he couldn’t justify. A-Rod called the bluff, and now we’re all faced with months of awkwardness as Rodriguez suits up for a team that doesn’t want him in a league that despises everything he represents.
Until then, I refer Selig to the popular clip from “Jerry McGuire” with an excited Tom Cruise yelling to his new client to “Show Me The Money.” That’s Rodriguez’s message, and baseball has no chance to generate anymore feel-good moments like the summer of ’98 until the pony up.