For those of us living in New York and bleeding Yankee blue, the 2005 campaign, set to begin on Sunday, is all about redemption. It’s about redemption for embattled steroid-users. It’s about redemption for an All-Star third baseman famous for the Slap. And it’s about redemption after the hated rivals from Boston ran through us in our house to win their first World Series since the end of World War I.
Redemption for the Yankees starts at first base. Number 25, the man George Steinbrenner just had to have after the devastating and era-ending loss to the Diamondbacks in 2001, Jason Giambi, will be trying to redeem himself this year. He was one of the players implicated in the BALCO testimony leak this winter, and last year, it certainly seemed as though the end of his steroid use had caught up to him. This spring, he’s looked much better. He’s hitting the ball well to all fields, and he’s doing what Jason Giambi has always done well: He’s getting on base.
Giambi’s redemption this year would be a great step forward for the game. If he can turn out a decent season, Giambi will be the poster boy for the end of the Steroid Era. He can show the fans that a former steroid user can go off steroids and still be good. Right now, in Spring Training, Giambi is hitting .289 with a .578 slugging percentage. If he keeps that up, Yankee brass and the fans would be ecstatic. That would be redemption at its finest.
Then, there’s Alex Rodriguez, and oh, does he need redeeming. Right now, Rodriguez is best remembered for The Slap. It’s been burned into Yankee fans’ minds. Instead of coming up with a clutch hit in a key situation in Game 6 of the ALCS, A-Rod tried to cheat. Well, he too got caught, and it was not pretty. Now, Rodriguez has to think about redeeming himself. He says he’s more comfortable at third base and is ready to mash the ball. Yankee fans want to see him hit. They want to see him pepper the Green Monster with double after double when the Bronx Bombers take on those pesky Red Sox. They want to see him come up big in the clutch with booming shots to the wall and not weak grounders to the pitcher. For the Yankees to win big, A-Rod will have to play a large role, and to do so, he better find something other than The Slap to leave as his lasting legacy on New York.
Then, finally, there’s Mariano Rivera and the entire team. It’s tough to think of Rivera as human, but the ALCS certainly showed the world his human side. The Red Sox beat him twice in two days. It was inconceivable. But now Rivera has to put those ghosts behind him and shut down the Sox when the Yanks are up by one or two in the bottom of the ninth. No more home runs by Bill Mueller or singles up the middle by David Ortiz. If Rivera redeems those blown saves, the Yanks could be a team saved. When – not if – but when the Yankees beat the Red Sox this season, the fans will know redemption.
In a way, the situation in New York reflects the game itself. Baseball is facing a period of redemption. While many baseball commentators believe that we’re now in the Post-Steroid Era, public perception may say otherwise. For many, the Steroid Era ended after the 2003 All Star break. With the gripping 2003 Playoffs and the small-ball Marlins’ winning the World Series, the Steroid Era came to an official end. But as the scandals broke this off-season, it became apparent that 2005 would be the year for Major League Baseball to redeem itself.
The first step toward a Major League redemption was the new drug-testing policy. As with much progress however, baseball experienced its share of one step forward, two steps back. The Congressional hearings two weeks ago seem now as though they were an unmitigated PR disaster for the sport with Mark McGwire’s reputation-shattering performance as the lasting image. Now, Selig and Co. are faced with a falsified résumé by the one guy who seemed to save face at the hearings. Dr. Elliot J. Pellman, baseball’s medical adviser, is reported to have faked some of his credentials. This is just another setback for the sport.
Yet, baseball will persevere. The Expos have a new home and a new name. The sport has a new, more powerful drug-testing policy, and players seem willing to put the steroid use in the past. Major League Baseball will look to redeem itself by cultivating a clean image this year led by the self-proclaimed Idiots who won the World Series. The new policy. A new image. It’s all a good start, but the healing will begin in earnest on Sunday. When the players step onto the field, baseball will begin the process of the redeeming itself. As summer nights bring exciting games, fans, who weren’t all that disenchanted in the first place, will turn out in droves, and the steroids will fade into the past.
So as the Yankees go about working on their redemption in the Bronx starting with Opening Night this Sunday, a few miles further south in Manhattan, Bud Selig will do what he can to redeem the game. And in seven months, you can bet that baseball will be redeemed.