Pharos-Tribune

June 26, 2013

KITCHELL: Time for a Landis comes full circle

Dave Kitchell
Local columnist

---- — When the great actor Tom Hanks shot “A League of Their Own” in Indiana, one of the most memorable lines in his script was “There is no crying in baseball.”

Maybe this year, there should be. This is the kind of summer when little boys, fathers and grandfathers join forces to talk baseball for the ages — and yet they’re not. This is the kind of year when young and middle-aged men go to a bar at night to hear a buzz and not get one — and they’re not.

Some of us can remember the last time a Major League Baseball player hit .400 or higher in a season. That was in the 1940s when Ted Williams swatted a lofty .406.

Some of us can faintly remember that epic 1961 Roger Maris chase to beat Babe Ruth’s home run record and the asterisk that distinguished the fact that Maris played in a 162-game season while the Babe only played in 154.

Some of us remember Hank Aaron getting death threats when he approached and then surpassed the Babe’s lifetime 714 home run total.

Some of us can remember when Denny McClain went 30-6 for the Detroit Tigers before gambling darkened his reputation as a competitor.

Some of us can remember Rickey Henderson obliterating Lou Brock’s stolen base mark, or Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire erasing the single-season homer records before Barry Bonds eclipsed them.

Some of us might remember a baseball player out of Notre Dame named Carl Yastrzemski who won a triple crown for the Boston Red Sox. The triple crown may be the rarest feat in all of baseball. No-hitters are thrown practically every season, and even a perfect game is not uncommon. Triple plays are executed periodically and there is the occasional inside-the-park grand slam.

But nobody can remember a time when a player won back-to-back triple crowns, leading their league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. It could happen this year because Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers became the first Major Leaguer in more than 40 years to win a triple crown last year. This year, his totals in all three categories are ahead of his pace last year.

Yet, this is not a feat we are watching daily in sports pages or on ESPN’s Sports Center. We’re not seeing his face on magazine covers.

Why?

Let’s face it, baseball is not what it used to be, and neither are the players. In fact, as many as 50 Major Leaguers may be taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs that make them rich in the short term but put their health at risk in the long term. Figuratively and literally, they are like the character “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.” in the Broadway show “Damn Yankees” — players who literally sell their soul to the devil, all for the opportunity for athletic glory.

This is not to say that Cabrera is taking steroids or other performance-enhancing products. It is to say that players such as Bonds, Sosa and McGwire haven’t made the Baseball Hall of Fame because there are too many doubts about the methods they used to reach the ends they achieved. It’s a shame since Cabrera, who has always been a great talent, is simply at the top of the game without peer and is ahead of the pack — performance-enhanced players and all. It’s a shame if he is using performance-enhancing drugs because if he is, he’s making a sham of what has been a legitimate profession for over a century.

Until the unidentified players who have tested positive are eliminated from the game and others are discouraged from trying what they have, Major League Baseball will simply be a major disappointment.

It’s been 94 years since a former Logansport resident, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, left the federal judicial bench to become the first commissioner of baseball. He cleaned up a game gambling could have ruined, and though he banned players for life in some cases, he sent a message and set a standard for fairness in athletic competition that current Major Leaguers who are cheating have failed to respect.

The use of banned performance-enhancing drugs and other substances such as supplements has been allowed for too long in baseball, and it sends a tacit message to amateurs that if it’s OK for Major League Baseball, it’s OK for everyone else. But it’s not.

It’s time for the second Commissioner Landis to be appointed and for Major League Baseball to reassert its primary responsibility: To guarantee fair play at the plate, in the basepaths, in front office hiring and even in the locker room and training room. It’s time to ban players who use banned substances for life.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at ptnews@pharostribune.com.