Thursday, June 22, 2017

Close the Book on a Golden Age in Sports

Baseball whiffed on Barry Bonds. They had the last great African-American baseball player in their midst. Instead of appreciating him, they colluded against him - refused him a a roster spot on a Major League team after he broke their all-time homerun record.

The owners had done it before - colluded against African-American ballplayers. That's how they kept blacks out of baseball the first 108 years of its existence. there was no definitive explanation given for why blacks were not allowed to play, but people understood. Neither was there an explanation for why there was no longer a place for Bonds in the game, though at the time of his exclusion, he arguably had more "pop" still left in his bat than most players in the league. Again, they left it to the public to presume the reason - that he tainted the game... cheated it by using steroids? Were they sure? Were they serious?

Major League baseball is the most insidious cheater in the history of American sports. It cheated an entire race of men out of the opportunity to compete in "America's game," and earn a living. This same league - with cheating in its DNA - looks at its players - past and present - and cannot be sure which, if not all, have cheated the game and one another - be it by steroids, corked bats, spit balls, amphetamines, stolen signs, etc., etc.; and whether they continue to cheat, still.

Now, it is over. Close the book on the great African-American baseball players: Josh, Satchel, Jackie; Willie, Ernie, Hank; Gibson, Henderson, Griffey, et al. It's over, America.

Imagine football - after watching Jim Brown, Deacon Jones, and Mean Joe Greene - ending with Lawrence Taylor, Barry Sanders, and Randy Moss. No Cam, no Zeke, no Beckham.

Imagine basketball - after Russell, Wilt, and the Big O - stopping with Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe. No Lebron, no Curry, no Durant. That is what has become of baseball in America. still a great game, but just as it was before Jackie Robinson, so much less than what it could have, and should have been.

I started watching baseball in the early 60's. The brothers were on a 50 year tear. Then, during the latter decades of the 20th century, African-American children stopped playing baseball - turned full-bore to basketball, which took less people, less space, and less time organizing.  And they turned to football, which represented a fundamental shift back to pure athleticism. The die was cast: When the nursery dries up, nothing grows. Add: Baseball is simply a more difficult game to play. Nothing is more baffling in sports than trying to hit Major League pitching.

It's over, boys. Barry Bonds is likely to be the last great African-American baseball player. (Never has Major League pitching seen the like. In one season, he not only had more intentional walks than any other player in baseball history, he had more than any team. They were not just afraid to pitch to Bonds, they refused.) For those of us who got to see him play, he was something to watch.  

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