For almost my entire life, baseball has been lousy.
I can remember growing up, looking through my dad's baseball card collection from the 1950s and 60s and being amazed by the names he had collected. Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Carl Yasztremski, Roberto Clemente.
I dreamed of having great players to look up to like my father did in his youth.
I was comforted in 1990 when my team, the Cincinatti Reds, trounced the sinister Oakland Athletics in the World Series. But the relief was short lived. Most of my heroes either left Cincinatti for bigger markets or burned out.
Then in 1994 I grew to despise the MLB and the players union for taking baseball away from me for a season. The '94 strike left millions of fans disenfranchised. Baseball was in serious need of a savior.
And he emerged in 1998 wearing a Cardinals cap and a first-baseman's glove.
Mark McGwire breathed life into a sport that had been drowning in its own greed and apathy.
Baseball was exciting again. Fans that hadn't watched a game in four years were once again glued to the televisions, awaiting McGwires every at bat, knowing that each pitch was a chance for him to chip away at Maris' record.
When McGwire broke the 37-year-old record in September of that year, I felt like my generation of baseball fans had finally witnessed excellence comparable to my father's generation of players. For once I was witnessing history instead of memorizing it from the back of 40-year-old baseball cards.
But that excellence was cheapened three years later when the McGwire's record was broken by Barry Bonds. Was it really becoming that easy to hit homerun? These are records that are meant to last.
I mean, the homerun chase was amazing in '98. But after 3 years of watching multiple players hammer out 60 long balls in a season, homeruns started to lose their glory. It was like sportswriters were crying wolf every time they spoke about the single season record. I grew jaded and weary of the subject.
And things have only gotten worse with the recent allegations of rampant steroid abuse in the MLB. My generation's heroes, the bigger-than-life men that had brought excellence back to the sport have been tainted by rumors and implications, and so have their records.
I hate baseball now. And I will hate it until I know that the premier players are as clean as those players whose records they now break.
Let's face it, Sosa, Bonds and McGwire are shaped like professional wrestlers. We may never know if McGwire was juiced up. But there is still time to exonerate Bonds and Sosa, at least for the current season.
Bonds and Sosa owe it to their fans to get tested.
Sosa had a chance recently when Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly gave him the address of a testing clinic so that he could prove his cleanliness to the world. Sosa claimed earlier that he would be first in line to be tested if the league chose to make it necessary. But he refused Reilly's offer to prove his innocence.
This is coming from America's most admirable player. If Sosa refuses, one can only imagine what kinds of drugs are running through Bond's veins.
Innocent or not, Sosa's refusal was another black eye for the league. The league's most honest player cast a shadow of doubt on not only himself, but the rest of the power hitters.
Bonds and Sosa deny any drug use. But I'll believe it when I see it. Until then I'll be back in my fathers den, fingering through my father's tattered cards and dreaming of days gone by when baseball's heroes were as natural as the grass they played on.