Dan Kukla

In the summer of ’98 we fell in love with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; but after shattering 61 homeruns they used steroids to smash our hearts as well.

Next came the Rocket and he did the same. Now A-Rod too, after the promise of life happily ever after, has given our hearts one more spin in the proverbial blender.

When Sports Illustrated released a report Saturday that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003, the dark world of Major League Baseball grew even darker. There was never any denying the deep scars the steroid era was certain to leave. But A-Rod represented hope that is now tainted with his legacy.

For whatever reason, the baseball world chose Rodriguez as its savior. Out of na’veté, ignorance and perhaps a deepening sense of desperation, we all willingly turned a blind eye and a free pass to this star on the issue of performance enhancing drugs. In a day when all it takes is a faint whisper of the ‘S’ word to destroy a player’s legacy, A-Rod was protected at all costs.

When Barry Bonds villainously stole the all-time homerun record, we comforted ourselves with the thought that one day Rodriguez would win it back. He would prove that a player could be the best without steroids, thus restoring honor, dignity and integrity to the sport. Whether you loved him or hated him, you had to root for him because he was all that baseball had left.

Now, with Rodriguez’s mask of hypocrisy removed for all the world to see, the sport is in desperate need of a new white knight. But who could possibly fill those shoes, much less want to?

MLB fans and analysts are off the charts when it comes to cynicism. As we have seen too many times before, a simple accusation is enough convict even the highest of stars and send them falling back to earth. Guilty until proven innocent is the new law of the land. Now more than ever, if any player begins to rise above the rest, we immediately throw them under the microscope. The steroid era has stolen away our ability to enjoy and appreciate rare talent.

As skeletons are currently jumping out of closets with unbelievable regularity, a certain level of suspicion is absolutely warranted. But there is another side to that coin, one with drastically unfortunate consequences.

It is more than conceivable that our witch hunt for steroid users will rack up its fair share of collateral damage. One can only wonder how many clean names have and will be cast into the fire with the dirty ones. When accusations become the basis for societal conviction, it creates a dangerously wide margin of error.

Certainly the MLB needs accountability. The A-Rods of today must continue to be unveiled and made example of if the sport is ever to see the other end of this long and dark tunnel.

But what the MLB also needs is hope. Baseball fans need to have hope that one day this will all end-that one day a player will do what A-Rod was supposed to.

Baseball must not become fearful of falling in love with heroes. Right now we as fans are on the verge of entering into that sad stage of life where we have been hurt so many times that we vow to never love again.

We must not let that happen. Ever. If we can’t watch a player hit 30+ homeruns and 100+ RBIs in eight consecutive seasons and simply applaud without thinking ‘steroids,’ that would be an even greater tragedy than any amount of asterisks in the record books.

The sad and tragic truth is that the steroid era is making the players missing from the Hall of Fame more significant from those actually in it. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and now Alex Rodriguez are all on the list of those who have or will profoundly impact baseball history in a profoundly dishonest way. But that doesn’t mean true and genuine talent no longer exists.

Yes it’s cheesy, but as the commercial from Kay Jewelers says, ‘If you leave you heart open, love will always find its way in.’