The Needle and the Damage Done


The closing stanza from the Neil Young song referenced in my blog title goes like this…

I’ve seen the needle

and the damage done

A little part of it in everyone

But every junkie’s

like a settin’ sun

The “needle” in this case are steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, which have been running rampant in Major League Baseball since at least the early to mid 90s, if not earlier. They’ve caused mistrust, inflated stats and egos, and cost several players any possible chance at enshrinement in Cooperstown.

The “junkie” is the professional baseball player, some of whom have had their names publicized like Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez. Others aren’t so public but certain names have been heavily speculated, most notably Barry Bonds. Unfortunately, most players despite their guilt or innocence have been tainted by the scandal. Players who go through what were once considered “normal” slumps are now cast under a cloud of suspicion of having taken steroids and, now that they are supposedly cleaning up, are suffering the expected decline in their stats. It’s a sad fact that I’m sure even the most honest players are aware of. Unfortunately, we probably won’t ever know who those players are. That’s where the “a little part of it in everyone” line comes in. No one’s immune despite the best of intentions.

The “settin’ sun” is the continued decline of a once predominant national pastime. A game that used to have prime time exposure on a regular basis on networks like ESPN is lucky now to get two nights a week. Basketball, in my opinion, has taken over as the national pastime, much to my disapproval. Not that I dislike basketball, mind you. It’s a great sport but the history and nostalgia just aren’t the same. Where kids used to gather in the nearest sandlot, semi-busy roadway, or open field, they now crowd people’s driveways and basketball courts instead. It’s just another reminder that the game just ain’t what it used to be and the steroid scandals have played a large role.

The real “damage done”, though, is what happens to the kids that looked up to their fallen heroes. Yes, it can be argued that we as parents should be who they look up to but, let’s face it, kids will always love their sports heroes. I did when I was a youngster, collecting baseball cards, watching game after game, and spending much of my waking time tracking my favorite player’s stats. Heck, I still do some of that but it just isn’t the same anymore. Kids look up to these guys and, as nice as they may be in person, finding out that one of your heroes isn’t so heroic is a big blow as a youngster. It’s just one more disappointment in a long list of them that happens to kids as they grow up. It’s one more growing-up-too-soon moment that could have been easily avoided if these guys just would’ve stopped and thought about what they were doing. Rather than busting their ass a little harder to be the actual best they can be instead of some steroid-enhanced freak show, they had to take the easy way out, the shortest path to glory. Was it worth it? It doesn’t look that way, does it?

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