Spring may not have fully sprung, but at least baseball is back.
The new Major League Baseball season has begun, and features a number of storylines worth following. The sport has finally cracked down on steroids in recent years, and 2014 will include comebacks from several stars who served lengthy bans in 2013 after testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. Chief among these punished players is 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. He famously appealed and defeated a positive test result in 2011, only to receive a 65-game ban two years later. Whether Braun, and suspended peers Nelson Cruz and Johnny Peralta, can return to peak form will evidence the extent to which steroids had aided these top-level players.
Another disgraced player who will help define 2014 is New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez. The third baseman is slated to miss the entire season due to a steroids suspension. So why is he still relevant? For starters, his whopping 162-game ban is unprecedented in baseball, and threatens to derail his career. Unsurprisingly, ARod and his bullpen of lawyers bitterly opposed the penalty for months, before dropping the lawsuit in February. Perhaps they could see the writing on the wall: that this was as much about scapegoating as punishment. In trying to move on from its steroids-tarnished past, baseball is resolved to make an example of Arod in the present.
The severity of his suspension (and those of others) seems to have communicated the new no-tolerance message regarding PEDs. In a recent poll, MLB players estimated that only 9.4 percent of the sport still took performance-enhancing drugs. That is a far cry from the height of the steroids era — the late 90s and early 00s — when batting statistics swelled across the league to historic levels amidst allegedly rampant abuse of illegal substances. It’s no coincidence that power numbers have trended downward for some time now. At last, MLB has largely thwarted the cheaters in its ranks, a welcome victory that 2014 should continue to exemplify.
While the ARod case remains a headache for baseball’s most storied franchise, the New York Yankees still begin 2014 with a lot of potential. It was painful to watch arch rival Boston win the 2013 World Series, especially with the Bronx Bombers, ravaged by injuries, missing the playoffs. But New York rebounded in the offseason by spending $470 million on seven quality free agents. The rebuilt roster looked crisp and potent in spring training.
Which should be welcome news for Yankees and Red Sox fans alike. The two most popular baseball teams in Connecticut are best enjoyed when they are relatively even with one another. New York’s turn as an injury ward last year prevented the 100-year-old rivalry from reaching its usual heights of drama and competition. Thankfully, both squads appear mostly healthy and well stocked for 2014. Mix in an elite Tampa Bay roster, plus the solid Baltimore and Toronto teams, and the AL East should come down to the wire.
Despite lingering steroids distractions that hopefully are in their final stages, the new MLB season should be one of suspense and pleasure for all Connecticut baseball fans. Play ball!