When I heard the news that Major League Baseball suspended Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder, 2011 Most Valuable Player and steroid cheat, I barely flinched. Drug usage, real and rumored, has been so rampant in MLB for the last 20 years that I’m surprised Braun’s case even registered in the media. But I should have anticipated the wild ride the story got on sports channels and in the 24-hour news cycle
Baseball now has three previous MVPs who are confirmed users — Braun, Jason Giambi and Ken Caminiti. A fourth, Alex Rodriquez, will soon be suspended.
Barry Bonds holds the single season and career records for most home runs, 73 and 762. Right behind Bonds in the single season category is Mark McGuire with 70. In 2010, McGuire finally confessed to what everyone had known for years; he used steroids for during his 1990s home run tear. As for Bonds, even though a federal court has documents and tests stating that three types of performance enhancing substances were found in his tests, the former San Francisco Giant hedges by saying he never knowingly took PEDs.
The fair thing to do would be to strip the tainted players of their MVP and individual championship awards and give them to the second place finishers. If the NCAA can vacate wins from the record books of schools that violated league rules like the University of Southern California and Penn State, then MLB can do the same. At a minimum, the listings as MVP or champion should have an asterisk.
The important question is why should Lodi’s baseball fans pay any attention to MLB when outstanding professional baseball is played close to home. About 50 miles north is the Sacramento River Cats’ Raley Field and 15 miles south, the Stockton Ports play in beautiful Banner Island Ballpark Field, opened in 2005.
The Ports are part of the California League, baseball’s best. Founded in 1941 by a combination of Major and Pacific Coast League teams, the charter members were the Anaheim Aces, Bakersfield Badgers, Fresno Cardinals, Merced Bears, Riverside Reds, San Bernardino Stars, Santa Barbara Saints and Stockton Fliers.
Modesto holds California League seniority with 67 consecutive seasons; Bakersfield, 66; Stockton, 64, San Jose 63 and Visalia, 62.
From 1966 through 1984, Lodi had a franchise variously known as the Crushers (1966-1969), the Padres (1970-1971), the Orions (1972), the Lions, (1973), the Orioles (1974-1975) and the Dodgers, (1976-1984). The Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Fernando Valenzuela, who had a 1979 stint with the Lodi before he became a superstar on the parent team, may have been Lodi’s most accomplished player.
Over the decades, the California League has produced many Hall of Famers: Don Drysdale, Joe Morgan, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, George Brett, Don Sutton and Dennis Eckersley. Managers Dick Williams and Sparky Anderson played for the Santa Barbara Dodgers, and HOF executive Pat Gillick pitched for the Ports. Finally, umpire Doug Harvey called balls and strikes in the California League from 1958 to 1960. Waiting in the Hall of Fame’s wings is Ken Griffey, Jr., former San Bernardino Spirit star.
Minor league baseball is undergoing its second golden era. The first, from 1949 through 1957 when 464 teams played in 59 leagues and drew more than 42 million fans, ended when television and air-conditioning made it easier to watch baseball at home.
Today, modern stadiums and eager young players have drawn back big crowds who have grown tired of watching whining, cheating, lying multi-millionaires. Minor league baseball is where it’s at. Lodi is lucky to have so many franchises within easy driving distance.
Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org