I am one of those people who have loved baseball nearly my entire life. Even though I was born in Chicago and moved to L.A. when I was just a kid, I was never a fan of the Cubs, the White Sox or the Dodgers. Instead, I rooted for the Boston Red Sox, probably because of Ted Williams, who was not only the greatest hitter during my lifetime, but the man who gave up the better part of five seasons to serve his country as a Marine pilot during World War II and again in Korea.
As I grew older, I became even a greater fan because I appreciated the fact that a number of their greatest players, including Williams, Bobby Doerr, Jim Rice, Dom DiMaggio and Carl Yastrzemski, spent their entire careers with the team. However, by the end of 1995, I had grown totally disenchanted with the Sox, and not because they could never get past the Yankees. I was plenty used to that. What I couldn’t accept was their dumping future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and sending 18-year veteran Dwight Evans off to finish his career with the Baltimore Orioles, while hiring one punk after another. By signing the likes of Jack Clark, Kevin Mitchell and Jose Canseco, they began to resemble baseball’s equivalent of the Oakland Raiders. It was as if they had sent their general manager down to the local post office to check out the Wanted posters on the wall.
When I finally gave up on them, I decided to root for the New York Yankees simply because I prefer the American League and I had always liked Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and their newly-signed manager, Joe Torre. Who knew that their young shortstop, a kid named Derek Jeter, would make such a huge difference?
All that being said, if my love of the game hadn’t been of such duration and depth, I would have given up on baseball a long time ago. That’s how much I hated the fact that Commissioner Bud Selig and the team owners didn’t merely turn a blind eye to the widespread use of steroids and human growth hormones, but winked at the cheaters.
Until the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, came along, home run hitters like Mantle, Mays, Snider and Schmidt, would hit 40, on rare occasion 50, homers in a season. Even Hank Aaron never hit more than 45. But suddenly 60 became commonplace.
As a result, all sorts of long-standing records were being broken. No longer were 500 home runs in a career such a big deal, and reaching that once magical number no longer guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame.