Baseball still special sport

No matter how hard anyone tries, they can’t change the fact that baseball remains a great game.

The latest blemish was revealed on Jan. 11 when Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was hit with a 162-game suspension after an arbitrator ruled there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the third baseman had used three banned substances and tried to obstruct baseball’s investigation.

What the decision means is that Rodriguez, who has been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times, will miss the coming season (plus all post-season games.)

His case is interesting, especially since while no tests revealed that Rodriguez had used the substances (testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor), 65-year-old arbitrator Fredric Horowitz ruled there was “clear and convincing” evidence to that fact. Plus, it’s interesting to note, while severe, the suspension Horowitz handed down actually represented a reduction from a 211-game suspension baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had issued in August.

Of course, Rodriguez has denied the allegations and, of course, he has sued Major League Baseball and the players’ union.

It’s unlikely he will prevail. That will put the Yankees in a bad spot, but it will make baseball stronger.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs is something that all sports have to constantly struggle with as each sport – and its fans – asks more of their athletes.

Selig has shown that he is willing to put the integrity of the game ahead of worries about the loss for a season of one of the game’s biggest stars. It shows that the game Selig will leave when he retires next January will be in a good position to protect its reputation.

That’s an important thing for fans to remember as we work our way through the middle of January.

It might seem that drugs and other nongame-related issues have overwhelmed the product that’s put on the field. That would be wrong, as fans throughout the Tri-State Area were reminded last summer when the Pittsburgh Pirates took center stage, not only in our region but around the country.

The Pirates took us on quite a ride last year, and let a whole new generation of fans experience the excitement of a pennant race (not seen in these parts for more than 20 years), the thrill of a one-game playoff and the suspense of a playoff series that went down to the wire before ending on the wrong side.

Those thoughts are what keep the game interesting and help to let us look forward to Feb. 12 (when spring training opens), Feb. 26 (when the Pirates open their spring training schedule against the Yankees at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.) and March 31 (when the Pirates open their regular season at 1:05 p.m. against the Cubs at PNC Park.)

Those things are the essence of the sport – the things that make the game great.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)