Say it Ain't So, Joe (and Alex and Barry and Mark and Sammy and . . . )

I've written about baseball and steroids before, but yesterday's announcement that none other than Alex Rodriguez tested positive in 2003 re-opens this wound for me. Shame on all these players for cheating; although you can certainly see why they'd do it, since a) everyone else was, b) their livelihoods depended on it, and c) Major League Baseball's policy was so toothless. And shame on MLB for turning a blind eye for so long; although you can certainly see why they'd do it, since a) players were their meal ticket, b) they were losing popularity to professional football, and c) "chicks dig the long ball."

As I wrote over a year ago, so I write today: a little bit more of my childhood innocence has been lost. Baseball is a game for kids and kings; I played it as a kid and worshipped as kings those who played it for a living. It is the scene of countless goosebump-inducing moments, the quintessential national pastime, a prism without which one cannot understand America or Americans.

And now the last decade or so is a mirage. Even last year's magical run by the Phillies can't escape the taint: key middle reliever J.C. Romero has been suspended for 50 games for use of an illegal substance.

As someone who read hundreds of baseball books as a kid, the wonderful thing about the game is the conjecture involved in comparing players across eras. Who was better, Rogers Hornsby or Joe Morgan? Willie Mays or Ty Cobb? Was Babe Ruth the best of them all? (Or, deliciously, was it Negro Leagues stars Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, or Josh Gibson?) Such comparisons involved normalizing stats to account for differences over time: the "dead ball" era, racial integration, the emergence of specialized relievers.

And now we will somehow have to account for the presence of steroids in the game. And somehow I'm certain that that adjustment will be more difficult and more depressing to make.
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