MLB'S image a marketing nightmare

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

After years of futility, the Detroit Tigers have one of the best records in baseball.

The Toronto Blue Jays will be competitive until the end of the season.

There are new names such as Alexis Rios, Casey Blake and Chris Shelton making news with their hitting and personalities, good ones for a change.

It should be happy time in baseball heaven.

Instead it's a little like baseball hell.

All anyone can talk about is a worn-out, personality-bereft outfielder who is under a cloud because of suspected steroid use, could eventually be indicted for lying to a grand jury and is making a mockery of the game by dragging himself out on the field in the hope he has 43 more good swings in his body so he can break a home-run record.

Imagine having to sell Barry Bonds as the face of baseball.

Football has guys such as Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Hockey has Wayne Gretzky. Who does baseball have?

And everyone thought hockey had an image problem.

Baseball has gone on believing it needed to do nothing to make itself better or to change. Like royalty, baseball operates on the principal of divine passage.

It has a right to do things the way they've always been done simply because it's baseball.

Many of the game's players are public relations nightmares.

The game never wanted to acknowledge a problem with steroids.

The game never wants to admit it could use something to make it more watchable.

The game came to think of itself as bigger than anything else.

Now the leagues are reaping what they sowed and the harvest isn't pretty.

The game is struggling in several cities. In Canada, it's being kept alive only because of the Blue Jays' revival . . . sort of.

Even with the Maple Leafs missing the playoffs, some major Toronto newspapers aren't playing the Blue Jays on the front page. They will eventually. because there won't be much else in the summer. Right now they just don't feel the interest is there.

Bonds is chasing the all-time home-run record. He'll soon pass Babe Ruth, who hit 714, and then begin to chase Hank Aaron's total of 755. That's the only reason Bonds is sticking around.

He can't play the outfield anymore. He can't run and there's some question about whether there's any magic left in his stroke. He's hitting in the .220s.

His chase has become an embarrassment to major league baseball.

The questions, the surliness, the shadows have turned many people off the game. Most of the interest generated in this home-run quest is the same as that generated when you drive by an ugly car wreck. You try hard not to look but curiosity always gets the best of you.

In this case, the car wreck occurs when Bonds passes Ruth and if he sticks around long enough, what happens when he passes Aaron? What will be the reaction to a tainted record?

If it happens away from San Francisco, you may get a stadium that sits silent -- a fitting tribute to the state of baseball, thanks in many ways to Bonds. That's how disliked baseball's marque figure is. That's how disdained his records have become.

His memorabilia are not selling like others and the home-run ball that breaks the record is expected to fetch a far lower price than other balls that have been hit for significant records.

Short of seeing Bonds disappear right away, major league baseball prays he will break Ruth's record quickly so the focus can shift elsewhere.

Bonds is a product of what baseball has become over the years.

For the next year, or until Bonds breaks Aaron's home-run mark, they'll have to live with Bonds as a shining example of what happens when you abandon a game to its own devices, when the end justifies the means.

Major league baseball can do nothing about Bonds. They have to live with him.

Let's hope baseball is serious about the rules it put in place so it doesn't produce another one.


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