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August 9, 2013

Integrity is critical in baseball

NORMAN — Baseball’s annual Mid-Summer Scandal doesn’t seem to be creating that much buzz among fans, except those lucky enough to be in the stands and boo Alex Rodriguez when he steps to the plate.

Why get worked up? Scandals have been part of the game since four players for the Louisville Grays were discovered to have thrown games in 1877 in exchange for bribes. The Grays soon departed the National League and the St. Louis Cardinals took their place. That worked out darn well.

Games have been fixed, players have cheated and rules have been broken. That doesn’t mean fans are indifferent to it all. Suspensions seem to mean more if it’s your player getting handed a 50-game benching. Not so much if it’s the other guy. Baseball is a local matter.

Integrity, however, remains critical when it comes to statistics and achievements. They give the sport its rich history. They are at the heart of the game. Don’t mess with ‘em.

Protecting its most valuable asset is where Major League Baseball is failing. The immortal Babe Ruth slugged 60 home runs in 1927 -- an achievement that stood for more than 30 years until Roger Maris started driving the ball into the short right-field bleachers in Yankee Stadium. Maris faced incredible pressure in 1961 as he closed in on Ruth, until he cranked his 61st breaking a record many thought was unbreakable.

A generation later came the steroid scandal where big-league sluggers suspiciously hit mammoth shots normally associated with a slow-pitch softball league. Maris’ mark stood for 37 years until Mark McGwire clubbed 70 in 1998, four ahead of Sammy Sosa’s 66. It was amazing to watch – the country was captivated – but there had to be an explanation. Most figured the balls were juiced.

In a four-year period, Maris’ old record was bettered by three players -- McGwire, Sosa and Barry Bonds -- a combined six times. With little fanfare, the unpopular Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, making what Ruth had accomplished look trivial.

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