Mike O’Brien ‘23
Chief Sports Editor
Seeing a beloved staple of American culture slowly withering away is a sad sight to see. Movie theater attendance is on the decline because of the prominence of streaming services and the COVID-19 pandemic. The album has all but given way to collections of singles thrown together. Now, we are beginning to see Major League Baseball’s title as “America’s Pastime” slowly slip away.
Even before discussing recent events that have transpired around the league, it’s clear to see that baseball’s place in the hearts of Americans has been shrinking over the last several decades. The 2020 World Series was the least watched Fall Classic ever, with just an average of 9.7 million viewers per game in that series. In comparison, the recent NFC Divisional Round game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers drew in a whopping 36.9 million viewers—still two rounds before the Super Bowl. It’s clear that football has taken over as America’s most watched sport.
Even the NBA’s viewership is starting to threaten baseball. According to the league, the 2021 NBA Finals averaged 7.1 million viewers per game, its highest figure since 2002. While the MLB is posting historically low figures as of late, the NFL and NBA have continued to soar.
While team owners and league executives may be scratching their heads as to why baseball has been tanking as of late, they only need to look at themselves to find the answers. The recent MLB lockout began on Dec. 2, 2021 after the leagues’ team owners failed to negotiate with the MLB Players’ Union. While the situation of a shortened season in 2020 was obviously out of the league’s control because of the pandemic, the MLB could very well be staring at its second truncated season in three years if the lockout is not resolved. Not a great place to be in for the sport.
But the lockout’s negative effects don’t end at a potential shortened season and friction between players and ownership. During this time, another perfect storm brewed; the MLB’s expiration of the league’s sports drug agreement happened to expire while the lockout continues, meaning that the league will not be testing players for performance enhancing drugs. This lack of testing provides a serious risk, as players could very well juice leading up to the start of the 2022 season.
And the string of bad looks for the MLB does not end there. The news of lack of PED testing comes a short two weeks after the voting for the Class of 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, which made noise after Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, was not voted in the Hall while being on his last year of eligibility to be selected. This means that unless something unprecedented is passed, one of the sport’s legends will not be a Hall of Famer.
For those who don’t know, the controversy around Barry Bonds mainly involves (wouldn’t you know) his use of steroids. Was Bonds wrong to use steroids during his run to becoming one of the greatest sluggers of all time? Absolutely. But should he be punished so severely for it? Absolutely not. The aptly named “Steroid Era” from roughly the early 90’s-mid 00’s was an epidemic for baseball in which superstars like Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, and countless others were guilty of using steroids. While none of these players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, it seems that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America turns a blind eye when it comes to who they want in or out of the hall.
While all of the aforementioned names are not in the Hall, modern Red Sox legend David Ortiz was elected into the Hall of Fame weeks ago in his first year of eligibility. There is no doubt that Big Papi was an exceptional team leader (see his address to Fenway Park after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing tragedy; even as a Yankees fan it gives me chills), a clutch player (his grand slam in the 2013 ALCS comes to mind), and an international ambassador for the sport with the numbers to back up his selection into the Hall. But not many people know that Ortiz was one of over 100 players to test positive for steroid use in 2003; the same year it was also revealed that Alex Rodriguez was guilty of the same crime.
So what’s it going to be, BBWAA? Are you going to be consistent in your criteria for judging players’ contributions to the game based on whether they used PEDs or not? Or will you continue to punish the faces of the steroid epidemic while letting in players whose steroid use has been swept under the rug? And what about you, MLB owners? Will your greed finally subside into working with your players and compromising some of your privileges? The future of the sport may ride on your actions.