PRYOR, OK —
For the last few weeks, when I call or text a friend or old co-worker to catch up with them on their summer breaks, at some point during the conversation the following topic always seems to pop up: "Hey, you're a sports guy. What do you think about all the steroid stuff in baseball?"
It's a hot subject. I get why people talk about it, or like to talk about it, or like to pretend to care about it. People who make as much money as big-time baseball players also tend to make headlines.
But here's a confession: I am only remotely aware of the PED scandal developments.
Being always in close proximity to ESPN and other outlets means I get my daily dose of Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, but for the most part, I tune out when it comes to their daily doses of HGH. There's simply too much good baseball being played by good players on good teams to delve too much into a couple of former MVPs on fourth- or last-place teams — you know, those guys that are only around to add home runs to their career totals.
(A fun little anecdote: I was discussing the art of hitting round-trippers with Pryor third baseman Spencer Henson this summer after he hit two in one game against Claremore Sequoyah. He put it like this: "Home runs are accidents. I'm never trying to go out and hit a home run. I'm just trying to get on base for the guys after me and get the guys on base home.")
Certainly, steroid use has rocked the majors for some time. There was scandal surrounding Mark McGwire after his home-run chase with Sammy Sosa in 1998, when baseball reached in its most recent popularity spike.
There was plenty of scandal around Barry Bonds in 2001, after he swelled up like a grade-schooler with a peanut allergy and smashed 73 homers that year. (Seriously, go Google the before-and-after photos of Bonds when he played for Pittsburgh and Bonds in 2001. It's like the before-and-after of Bruce Banner and The Hulk.)
Here's the deal, though: A-Rod is 38. He's at the twilight of his career. The steroid scandal has been raging for a long time now, and it's been many years since Rodriguez (allegedly) started using HGH. But the scandal is like a coal that refuses to burn out in your last-days-of-summer campfire, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig has decided to squirt a gallon of lighter fluid on the embers by trying to ban Rodriguez for life.
Selig lacks the demeanor of that great first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who banned the Black Sox after they fixed the 1919 World Series. Landis didn't waste time with cheaters. He removed them, and sent a message to the league that he would not be trifled with.
Selig has dragged his feet for years with the scandal, and he's dragged us along with it, trying to balance the league's popularity with its necessity for discipline. He had several opportunities to ban high-profile players in the past but refused, opting instead to suspend them for a few games or send them home with frowny-faces on their report cards.
The Commish is trying to rein in something that's long been out of his control.
That's why I can't focus on the cheating anymore. There are tons of guys in both leagues that are doing great things without the aid of needles and juice.
Take the Pirates and Royals. Pittsburgh is on pace to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 (when Bonds was in the Three Rivers outfield), and Kansas City is four games out of the wild-card race for their first berth since they won the whole thing in 1985.
The Dodgers and Braves are both playing out of their minds, and the Cardinals are on their way to yet another playoff appearance. The races in the AL West (Texas and Oakland) and AL East (Boston, Tampa and Baltimore) will be great down the stretch.
Chris Davis (42 HR) has been the only thing standing in the way of Miguel Cabrera's second straight Triple Crown (.365 batting average, 36 HR, 110 RBI).
So the next time your eyes and ears are assaulted with the bad news about baseball, just remember: there's far more good news, and it's coming up next.