Sorry, Ryan Braun. This whole steroid thing is my fault. I am also to blame for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and all the rest. Because of me, the game of baseball will never be the same.
You see, when I was a kid, I idolized the players who the game was supposed to be about. I wanted to be George Brett. I threw pitches like Orel Hershiser. I stole bases like Rickey Henderson. I didn’t sit in my backyard with my friends and pretend to be Dave Kingman. Somewhere along the line, that changed.
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When you watch a group of kids play baseball, you can usually tell who is the best player by the amount of dirt on his uniform. It’s the kid who takes charge, dives for balls and climbs the dugout fence while screaming support for his team. That’s the kid every coach wants.
But then they start to grow up and their bodies start to mature. That’s when the obsession with the long ball starts to creep in. That’s when they start getting noticed by scouts and recruiters.
You see, you won’t find many YouTube videos of the David Ecksteins of the world. You won’t see a lot of Sportscenter clips of a guy with four hits and a crucial RBI to win the game. You won’t see viral videos of Greg Maddux and his devastating change-up. You will find plenty of media showcasing Bryce Harper’s 500-foot home-run power and Aroldis Chapman’s 105 mph fastball.
In fact, one of the few Maddux commercials you will find is here. Maddux and Tom Glavine talking about chicks digging the long ball. How ironic is that?
In America, we’re obsessed with speed, power and more power. We want to see our favorite players hit the ball as far as humanly possible. We don’t care if he strikes out 200 times, as long as he hits 40 dingers. Cough, cough Mark Reynolds. We simply want to be there when Roy Hobbs busts the cover off the baseball. It’s why teams pay Adam Dunn $56 million dollars over four years to hit .243 with 185 strikeouts and 44 home runs.
They do it because that’s what the fans want to see. Fans aren’t interested in a sequence that includes a single, sacrifice bunt, passed ball and sacrifice fly to score a run. They want to see a solo shot. And to take it even further, they don’t want to see one dropped into the short porch in right field at Fenway. They want the bomb over the Green Monster.
It turns into a supply-and-demand issue. The teams that have the supply of power can up-charge the fans who demand to see it up close. It’s simple math. If there wasn’t this American obsession with instant gratification, teams wouldn’t pay so much for one dimensional players and fans wouldn’t pay so much to see it.
But the fact is, we do. So, they do, too. Which leads to one result. Players willing to risk their reputation and careers for the chance to hit the ball a little further.
And it’s all my fault.