THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

It’s time to inject some baseball back into this discussion

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / August 3, 2009

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Enough with the drug stories already! Isn’t that what most of us are saying?

Will these references to long-ago transgressions keep dribbling out, fooling around with our summah and the next summah and the summah after that? Sorry, Players Association. Unless more of your members are as blockheaded as Roger Clemens, none of your charges will wind up going to jail. Release all the names on that infamous list as quickly as possible.

Let’s have one huge media frenzy. Tell all the players involved to ’fess up, say, ‘Yup, I did it,’ and, ‘Yup, I’m sorry, and if I had to do it all over again I’d never have done it.’ Whether they mean it or not. If they all do it, they’ll all get through it just fine.

We are never going to be sure of everything that happened in this era that began (we think) in the 1990s and which, to a far lesser degree, continues even now. (Hi ya, Manny.) Somebody’s going to skate. I can live with that.

Thanks to the long overdue testing, the game is on its way to being cleaned up. But half of baseball could be on Human Growth Hormone, for which we lay people are told there is no viable urine test. I don’t know. I hope not. I really don’t think so. But we can be pretty sure someone’s trying to get a competitive edge by HGHing it up, and that brings us back to the Players Association. It’s time for its leaders to stand up for the good of the game, not the perceived good of their constituents.

The union should be taking the lead, the idea being that the cleaner the public believes the game to be, the better life will be in every way for its members. The Players Association should be lending its support to any effort that would catch the cheaters. It is completely in its best interests.

All parties involved should be united in the desire to protect a precious asset - the game of baseball. Baseball has survived assorted crises in more than a century and a half and should be able to survive this one, too. But like many other good things in our society, its day-to-day greatness is sometimes overwhelmed by an aberrant negative occurrence.

I wonder if anyone has stepped back to examine the Red Sox events of the past week. No, not the news that David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez were among the 104 players who were found to have tested positive on the infamous list. I’m talking about what took place on the field.

It was a week of rather enormous highs and lows. The Red Sox should have won Tuesday, when they held a 6-2 lead entering the seventh and a 7-4 lead entering the ninth. They should have lost Thursday, when they were down, 5-3, in the seventh. But the greatest thing about baseball, as opposed to football, basketball, and hockey - the clock sports - is that you really do control your destiny. The game is not over until that 27th, and final, out is recorded, and everyone winds up on both sides of that equation at some time or another.

All Jonathan Papelbon had to do Tuesday night to walk off the mound with a save was retire a young man playing his first major league game. Even in this disturbingly, inconsistent season, Papelbon seemed like a good bet to do that. But Tommy Everidge doubled high off the wall, missing a homer by a foot or two. Then followed the semi-madness, with the two slowly-hit ground balls and the two Nick Green throwing errors, and the game was tied. The A’s would win in the 11th, the winning run being produced with two outs via a Mark Ellis double and a Rajai Davis single. In both cases it was a drama specific to baseball.

Two days later, the Red Sox were down by two runs with two men on base with two outs and there was Big Papi, staring down lefty Craig Breslow, who had been brought in to face him the night before and retired him on a feeble pop to third. With all the stuff swirling around the ballpark Thursday afternoon, could there have been a more fictional situation? Papi hits a three-run homer. There is no comparable moment in any of our other sports.

This is without discussing the other great baseball moments, whether it’s superb pitcher-batter duels or great defensive plays, or mind-game moments such as the way Jacoby Ellsbury may very well have contributed to Kevin Youkilis’s game-winning home run Friday night off Jeremy Guthrie. That’s what Dave Roberts believes, anyway. He was positive that by drawing six throws after singling that he was a sufficient distraction to divert Guthrie’s attention away from his primary purpose, which was to get Youk out. Guthrie hung one, Youk pounced on it, and that was that.

I mentioned defense. It is quite clear to me that baseball is currently populated with the greatest collection of superb athletes in its history, and that every night there are 15 or 20 plays made that would have drawn gasps or wild cheers 30 or 40 years ago, but which receive routine applause nowadays because we have all become spoiled. Dustin Pedroia made just such a play Tuesday, roaming far to his right to snatch a ball off the bat of Kurt Suzuki before making an absolutely amazing throw across his body to get the runner. But it took place in the middle of that crazy ninth inning Oakland rally, so no one took much note of it.

Baseball is a fascinating enterprise in the short run, and an epic event over time. Six months. 162 games. That makes for a lot of ebb and flow, a lot of turnarounds, a lot of false positives and a lot of misleading negatives. Sometimes a player’s entire year can be a mysterious, inexplicable reversal of obvious form (see Mike Lowell, 2005). It is not a game for the attention-deprived or the person addicted to violence.

It is a beautiful game and it should not be tarnished by drugs, or even talk of drugs. Drug talk is far too often Hall of Fame talk. The Hall of Fame is important, but there is a far bigger issue: the game itself. Anyone who seeks to harm this great game should be removed from it.

The great Robert B. Parker said it best. “Baseball,’’ he reminded us, “is the most important thing in life that doesn’t matter.’’

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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