The other night, while watching television and doing homework, I was going through the channels and came across a film I had not seen for some time: The Natural. Based on a best selling novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural is perhaps one of the most inspiring baseball movies there is. In the film, the central character, Roy Hobbs, is born with a gift, and throughout his life he attempts to resist bribery and other forces leading him off of his path toward greatness.
Today, baseball players face a problem similar to that which confronted Roy Hobbs. While Roy refused to be bribed in the final game for the pennant, many professional players today are choosing to corrupt the game in a very different manner. In the film, Roy refused to be bought, not simply because he was a man of honor, but because his love of the game was absolute.
While steroid abuses have been overlooked by Major League Baseball over the past two decades, this is not the first time scandal has contaminated the game. The 1919 corrupt World Series and Pete Rose’s gambling were both seen by the American public as isolated incidents of corruption in America’s pastime. However, the steroid abuses now being brought to light appear to be so widespread that professional baseball’s reputation as a legitimate American sport may be undermined.
Records have been shattered and legacies have been formed under the cover of substances that substitute for talent. When Americans view baseball today, do they see the great men playing the game they were born to play? With the growing disparity between the income of the players and that of the average American, can the public even relate to the players anymore?
There once was a time when this nation esteemed players as heroes, playing with their talent and innate penchant for the game--and nothing more. Men like Ted Williams, a distinguished player who served what would have been the best years of his career in Korea, fighting for our nation, at the expense of countless baseball records. Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first African American player, had to suffer harsh abuses including a Brooklyn Dodgers petition to keep him off of the team, simply to be able to play the sport he was born to play. As I sit and watch this scandal unfold, I ask myself, where are men such as Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson, men that devoted themselves to baseball and found happiness by playing the game the way it was meant to be played?
Major League Baseball is no longer what it once was. However, I believe that by enforcing strict guidelines, steroid abuse can be reduced and perhaps eliminated. Additionally, by regulating the income of the players to instill some humility, perhaps Americans may attend games and reminisce, remembering their aspirations on that field, and see men, not very different from themselves, who are living these dreams.
If it can be proven that certain players have abused substances in order to attain their records, I would move to have these records expunged, or perhaps separated, so that Americans realize that these records cannot be compared to those of other athletes, and that older records have still stood the testament of time.
In the final scene of The Natural, Roy Hobbs breaks his childhood bat, Wonderboy, which had been carved from a tree that had been struck by lightning. Using another bat, the Savoy Special, Roy hits a homerun, with the ball shattering the lights on the upper deck and causing a burst of fireworks to descend from the sky. As I watched the sparks gracefully fall to the field and Roy effortlessly jogs around the bases, it occurred to me that his talent had nothing to do with his lucky bat; his gift had always existed within him. I do believe that there was a time when baseball was poetry: the way a man played baseball was an extension of the way he lived his life. Perhaps those days are gone, but the memory of their existence remains in the minds of Americans. To restore the reputation of this nation’s pastime, Americans must reveal to the players what the sport has become, and what it once was, and should be.
Joshua Powers is a staff columnist for the DSJ. His views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.