Ever, even for a fleeting moment, wondered what it would be like to love watching a sport but not feel an emotional attachment to the success of one over an other? Sure, this is a common if you do not feel an affinity to a sport you just happen to be watching but what if you were a fan of a team, lost interest, but still love the game?
I'm sure this happens to some. I was an avid Yankee fan since 1986.I suffered through the obsessive overbearing whims of Steinbrenner. All but two players from the '88 team were still left by 1990 and that was one of the worst teams in the club's history.
The Steinbrenner "agreement" to not be involved in day to day operations led to a rebirth of the team's fortunes. The 1994 Yankees did something I never dreamed could happen to a Yankee, team, they swept an entire West coast trip. I believer they were 11-0 on the trip. Just 4 years earlier, the Yankees couldn't even compete against Oakland. By August 11, 1994, the Yankees, though losing to the Blue Jays in extra innings, finished the day well in first place. The Yankees in '93 may still have the record for most times being in a first place tie without ever leading the division.
I didn't cry over the '94 strike but it did change how I felt about the game. If I were rooting for a team that was having a lousy season, I might have felt different but I longed to see the Yankees dominate like they did before my time. The day had come, but it still never arrived.
I won't go over what happened after the strike. It's clear what happened, The size of the market seemed to dictate the success of a club more than the play on the field. Over time, it became more obvious as player salaries were free to grow to limitless heights. These heights could be reached and teams can still build around the player on large market teams. Smaller markets, get the big start and he's like a giant stuck on a Triple AAA roster playing in the Majors.
The Yankees rose to heights they may have never reached. 125-50 record including the post season in 1998 may be the greatest season they ever had. It has to rival 1927 or 1961 with a record like that. Salaries really began to explode in the 2000's and the difference in quality of talent between large and small markets was blatant. The league found a cheesy wealth redistribution scheme to help level the talent out around the league. It's cheesy because as a team benefits from that money and becomes good, they cease to be a major beneficiary of the funds. The team shines for 2 or 3 years then plummets for the net 8 to 10. I see the Marlins,Reds,Rays,Phillies all experience this and I believe I am seeing the Royals begin to go through this. Is it fair? No, but that's the point of salary caps and they don't have that in the Majors.
So, being disgruntled over the business end of MLB and dispassionate about a team which no longer has an identity because it no longer has any homegrown talent playing a vital role in their success, I am left with, the love of the game itself. I see a player, his talent, what he can contribute to a team but no longer care which team. PEDs are a nice distraction from what I feel is a chronic decaying issue in terms of the competitiveness of MLB.
So, the game. The game itself. Put one on, the strategy is there from pitch to pitch. How a pitcher tries to trick a batter, how the batter tries to out fox the fox. Where the ball ends up if hit, how it's fielded, where do you throw it if two are on? Is the runner taking an advantage of an outfielder with a weak arm or is he taking a chance with someone strong out there who could throw from right field to 3rd base with one authoritative bounce? If you're a manager, do you go with the right to right matchup late in the innings or risk going right to left just to bring your closer in who happens to be lefthanded? How long do you go with a pitcher who doesn't have his curve working that day? How long before you learn that pitcher doesn't have the curve? I could go on for an entire book of questions like this. The chess game that happens in every baseball game and it's all there if you are paying attention.
The game is the same. My love of teams is dead but the game lives on.