I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, at a time when baseball was still the national pastime. I still remember taking streetcars from my home on the North Side to see games at Forbes Field, now long demolished to accommodate the growth of the University of Pittsburgh. Like many others, one of my early heroes was Roberto Clemente, the great right fielder of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemente died tragically at age 38 on New Year’s Eve 1972. He died in a plane crash while taking aid packages to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. If you are interested in Clemente – and gaining a look at sports and our society in general during that period – I recommend Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss.
Well into my early 30s I was an avid follower of baseball, football and hockey. (I lived in Akron but had season tickets for Pittsburgh Steelers games. I saw the last professional football game in Pitt Stadium and the first in Three Rivers Stadium, now demolished like Forbes Field. I was also in Three Rivers Stadium to see the Immaculate Reception. If you are too young to know about this great moment in sports history, ask Bill Sledzik.) But then I started running and my enthusiasm for spectator sports – especially professional sports – diminished considerably. Today I only watch professional sports during the NFL playoffs when the Steelers are contending for another Super Bowl ring and the Cleveland Browns are waiting for next year. (Hope I don’t regret that last sentence in the next few weeks.)
But it was still a little sad for me to read and listen to the reports released this week about widespread steroid use in baseball. And here is the point about public relations. There doesn’t seem to me that there has been much negative fan reaction. And baseball commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t appear to be under enough pressure to cost him his job. So does major league baseball – and professional sports in general – get a special pass from the public when it comes to image and reputation? Consider what would happen if any business in this country cheated its customers like this. So what actions should Major League Baseball take to regain its reputation and the confidence of fans, its customers? Or doesn’t it matter? I think there are some PR issues and lessons to be learned here. How about you?
And don’t expect baseball writers to take much of a lead here. Tim Rutten wrote an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times, “Baseball’s shame is journalists’ shame too.” For those reading this blog who have been in my ethics class at Kent State, this situation doesn’t reflect favorably on journalistic values involving truth, fairness and the public’s right to know.
I’ll give that subject some more thought during tomorrow morning’s run.