I had almost written off Major League Baseball (MLB) this season. Illegal use of performance-enhancing substances such as human growth hormone (HGH) and steroids sullied the game’s reputation, raising questions surrounding the legitimacy of Barry Bonds’ passing Babe Ruth on the All-time Home Run list and culminating in the 50-game suspension of Arizona Diamondback Pitcher Jason Grimsley for taking HGH. Team salaries remain so disparate that the top team in the league, the New York Yankees, spends more on player salaries than the bottom five teams do collectively. Teams such as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kansas City Royals, and Pittsburgh Pirates remain perenniel underachievers. And my two favorite teams, the Seattle Mariners in the American League and the Washington Nationals in the National League, were both cellar dwellers in the spring.
I had almost written off Major League Baseball this season, but recently I saw a spark of excitement in MLB that’s been absent since the Red Sox won the World Series (unless you’re a Chicago White Sox fan). The hapless Detroit Tigers, doormats for years, now have the best record in the league. The Boston Red Sox are on a 12-game win streak, sweeping the first-place New York Mets in Interleague Play. The Atlanta Braves, for the first time since the 1980′s, are flirting with last place in their division, likely missing the playoffs. The New York Yankees would be out of the playoffs for the first time since the strike-shortened 1994 season–if the playoffs were held today. Old favorites such as Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro are having stellar seasons. Players off the juice such as Jason Giambi are playing well without the benefit of steroids. And the Seattle Mariners are actually competitive for the first time since 2001, just two games back of the American League West-leading Oakland Athletics. The Washington Nationals are still in last place.
While I still cringe when I think of the inequities existing in Major League Baseball, and I revel in the beauty of the National Football League, I’m optimistic that 2006 will be a good season for baseball. All but three teams have won between 30 and 50 games so far this season–a narrow spread indicating that a majority of MLB teams are still in the race for a playoff spot. While I’m happy the Mariners are again in the playoff hunt, I’m even happier that Major League Baseball–for a charge–is competitive and fun to watch.