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America's game is back


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It's charming to still think of spring training as the sweet and colorful sequel to "Song of the South" so celebrated back in the good old days of Norman Rockwell's America, when the lads would march off to the baseball camps every February whistling "Zipadeedoodah" with their gloves hitched to their belts.

But it doesn't quite wash anymore; even when there's three feet of snow out in the backyard.

Okay, so maybe all the Johnny Appleseed stuff went out with the Model A, or perhaps even the horse and buggy. Still, the illusion of the occasion sparking things fresh, merry, and near infinitely promising persisted in bringing joy to the subject right up to our times.

"Baseball's back; all's well with the world!" So went the mantra proclaimed every spring. If it was always naive so what? Seemingly, it was harmless; unless, of course, you were black, or Latin or -- in some other way -- from out of the conventional loop. But how many of us worried about all of those complexities back then? Dang few, I'm here to tell you.

It was a long train of abuses that peeled away the grand illusion. Television came along revealing the heroes in all of their humanity. Expansion followed spreading them too thin. And then it became all about money as everyone got rich severing what common touch might have been left. A heavy blow was the labor dispute that wiped out the World Series. But in the end, the most damaging blow might prove to have been the scourge of the performance enhancing drugs, now rendering even the all hallowed record book to the realm of deep doubt.

It's amazing how many had really believed in the sanctity of the subject and now weep over the intrusion of harsh reality. Let's just say the day that pitchers and catchers report to spring camp isn't quite the holy day of jubilation on the secular calendar that it once was.

All of which brings us to Spring Training-2013 when -- for a lot of excellent reasons -- we might yearn to subscribe to the dear old myth more than ever. Only to find that the prospect was dashed even before the truck arrived. "PEDS" has struck again!

This time, the issue is a rogue steroid-spa in Miami which bills itself as a "biogenesis anti-aging clinic," and if that alone would seem a sufficient tip-off that the joint might be suspect please keep in mind that these are baseball players we're talking about.

Not surprisingly, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees -- one of the more foolish of the contemporary breed -- is in the middle of the mess; a familiar spot for him although he may be consoled by the notion that he's not alone. How much "not alone" he may be is not yet clear. It is known that Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera -- both of whom, like A-Rod, have burdensome history in the matter -- are also on the list. There are believed to be others. All of baseball holds its breath.

If Rodriguez is found to have crossed the line again and if it's clearly determined he's done so since his last admission of transgressions which would be well beyond baseball's deadline for the toleration of such behavior, Mr. A-Rod is toast.

Is this not a spectacular scenario with which to launch another baseball season? You can expect the sleuthing process, now in high gear, to dominate the entire pre-season and if he's found guilty the consequences could be historic.

You tend to believe the Yankees are up to something. The last time around on this dumb merry-go-round with their vastly overpaid nuisance of a third-baseman they circled the wagons and remained steadfast in his defense up and down their ranks, nor was that easy. This time, you already sense differences with the owner quick to express "vague concern" and the GM studiously avoiding customary vows of support while the manager says nothing and even key players say stuff like, "let's wait and see." It's not too early for good old A-Rod to worry about whether this time they might just let him take ''the fall,'' which would of course be much deserved.

If the Yankees are fed up with this character, who could blame them. With Rodriguez clearly waning on the field and highly unlikely to regain stardom even if he recovers from his latest hip repairs the temptation to let him walk the plank must be powerful for Hal Steinbrenner and his fellow suits now in charge in the Bronx.

Moreover it would be oh so easy for them to justify in that if A-Rod has again violated baseball's PED laws he's clearly misled them, conned them, violated the spirit -- if not the terms -- of his contract. There's nothing new about any of that. He's done all of it before. But what they were willing to swallow when he was still at the top of his game, still killing the ball and an annual MVP candidate, still the toast of the town and a major league gate attraction, they may no longer be willing to stomach from a weakened, aging oaf who can no longer catch up with a fast-ball.

This ain't hypocrisy, old Sport, merely the new business of baseball which is, after all, a two-way street.

Thus far, the charges against Rodriguez all stem from a report in a little-known Miami weekly which -- we may politely observe -- is neither exactly the New York Times, nor well known for its investigative journalism. But the piece is heavily documented and detailed with material clearly drawn from the anti-aging clinic's files whose dubious owner is no stranger to steroid controversy. Men have been hung on less evidence. After a week of intensive inquiry, the report holds up. It's further interesting that A-Rod and his assorted spokes-persons remain mum. Not a good sign!

Much is at stake here. Rodriguez could be lengthily suspended or he could be pressured into an early retirement or -- in what would be the best case scenario for the lately meek Pinstripes -- he could have his contract voided, although that's a mighty long-shot. But if they could wipe A-Rod from their books the Yanks would instantly cure their most pressing problems, merely beginning with the ridding themselves of the monumental corporate millstone he's become. Think what they might do with the $114 million of salary they would save over the next five years of his rapidly declining production. They must be licking their chops.

While the Red Sox, high among all the others, are breaking into a collective sweat. The high-stepping, money-is-no-object, Bronx Bombers could be reborn with a sweep of a pen, ready to again do wild and crazy things with a liberated budget. It's a frightening prospect.

Just for openers, it would make so much easier their looming task of re-signing Robinson Cano, probably to a longer and dumber contract than the one the misguided Hank Steinbrenner gave A-Rod in a fit of apparent derangement. Of course that would also set in motion the process of history repeating itself and wouldn't that be amusing.

But that's another story for another day. What mainly matters here and now is that we have another season already sputtering in steroid controversy before it even begins. This after a painful winter of acrimonious give and take about the Hall of Fame leading to the humiliation of a boatload of steroid suspects, both genuine and questionable, which only adds to the confusion and increases the bitterness. It's a bloody mess.

Of this much alone you can be sure. Soon enough another shoe will drop!

Seven years after the unfortunate and deeply counter-productive Mitchell Report got the business of dealing with this nightmare off to a terrible start we remain mired in the mud. "Zipadeedoodah" indeed!

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