MLB’s self-inflicted wounds not stopping fans from filling stands
August 29, 2011 - 12:59 am
The season began horribly, with the savage beating of a man at Dodger Stadium simply because he was wearing the other team’s jersey. Midway through, there was unspeakable tragedy in Texas when a man sitting with his young son died while trying to catch a ball tossed his way.
The game’s biggest slugger went on trial and was convicted of charges related to his use of steroids. One of the greatest pitchers ever also had his day in court, though prosecutors might have struck out in their efforts to show Roger Clemens lied about steroids himself.
Two of the sport’s premier franchises are in serious trouble, threatened by the greed of their owners. Things are so bad in Los Angeles that fans are staging protests against the ownership, and the lure of $1 Dodger Dogs isn’t enough to fill even the cheap seats in the team’s iconic stadium.
On Saturday night, though, it was standing-room-only as 44,091 packed Milwaukee’s stadium to watch the small-market Brewers beat the Cubs once again. In recent weeks, two players gained admittance to exclusive clubs reserved for the game’s best, and fans are starting to believe that not everybody who plays the game is juiced.
Yes, baseball can sometimes look like a punch-drunk fighter, staggering from one crisis to another. But the sport is nothing if not remarkably resilient.
With a month to go in a regular season that has had more than its share of sour notes, you might even say that baseball is thriving.
Commissioner Bud Selig did the other day and sounded almost believable, though he’s said a lot of things over the years that have nothing to do with reality. In this case, though, maybe it’s time to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"I really think the last three years, given everything that’s gone on, baseball has really, really proven its popularity," Selig said.
Judging from attendance alone, Selig may be right. Parents are still taking their kids to the ballpark in respectable numbers and even fan apathy in Los Angeles hasn’t stopped attendance from rising slightly overall in the major leagues this season.
The fans come despite being weary from years of steroid scandals. They come even when the price of taking a family of four to a ballgame edges close to a monthly car payment.
They keep coming because they love baseball, even if a game between the Yankees and Red Sox lasts longer than some cricket matches.
It’s not as if this season hasn’t had its moments. Derek Jeter becoming the first Yankee to make the 3,000-hit club was certainly worthy of celebration in New York, and Jim Thome hitting his 600th home run was cause to celebrate, too, even if no one did.
The Pirates were a great story while they lasted, the Phillies have a pitching staff for the ages, and there’s a lefty in Los Angeles who draws comparisons with Sandy Koufax himself. New ownership in Chicago hasn’t made the Cubs any better quite yet, but fans at Wrigley can’t help but feel there may be better days ahead.
The best news this week won’t help the Dodgers make the playoffs, but it certainly cheered the team’s fans. Outside of Frank McCourt selling the team to some deep-pocketed billionaire unafraid to sign Prince Fielder, the announcement by Vin Scully that he will be behind the microphone next year at the age of 84 was the next best thing for a beleaguered franchise.
And, with steroids seemingly on the run, there’s just as good a chance you might see a 2-1 pitchers’ duel these days rather than a home run derby.
Throw in some pennant races, and it really could be a great season. Unfortunately, everything is almost locked up in the National League except in the West, while the only real suspense in the American League is whether the Angels can catch the Rangers. The AL East is close, but both the Yankees and Red Sox will make the playoffs anyway, so the division title means little more than bragging rights.
Still, it’s enough to make fans almost forget the bankruptcy of the failed McCourt regime in Los Angeles, and the problems with Bernard Madoff’s investments that will cost the Mets in the near term and could really cost owner Fred Wilpon in the future. Surely they’ve already forgotten a tired and bloated All-Star Game that threatened to set a new low in the long history of the midseason classic.
Let’s hope no one forgets the beating in Los Angeles or the tragedy in Texas, because the victims of both deserve to be remembered. Like many millions of fans this year, all they were looking for was a good time at the ballpark.
Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg.