Last night in the Bronx, the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 7-3, successfully closing out the 2009 World Series and clinching the team’s 27th championship, the most of any professional sports team in history. Last night’s game belonged to veteran Yankee ace Andy Pettitte (who pitched solidly on short rest) and to World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, who tied a Series record with six RBI. The victory is not nearly as poetic as some are making it out to be (after all, the Yanks last won a Series in 2000 — hardly the drought that the Boston Red Sox experienced), but it’s an especially redemptive win for team manager Joe Girardi (who has been second-guessed for most of his tenure) and for slugger Alex Rodriguez, whose monster salary has long been in question because of his inability to win a championship. But all that has been washed away by the thrill of victory.
Unfortunately, the Yankees’ victory doesn’t tidy up the problems that continue to plague baseball, most notably those involving performance-enhancing drugs. It’s a game of poetry and numbers, an intersection of hard physics and cosmic luck that captivates scholars and blue-collars alike. But Major League Baseball — or any professional sports organization, for that matter — cannot continue to dance around the fact that the participants are not only cheating but also caught in a cycle of self-destruction. For all its brutality, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has rigorous drug testing for its athletes, and the top brass make no bones about docking pay or showing offenders the door. Anybody who argues for the purity of baseball is either naive or stupid (the spitball, corked bats and uppers have long been a core part of the game), but some of the greatest players of this generation (including the aforementioned Rodriguez) are tainted by the stink of steroids. Even if they’re innocent, history will always cast a sideways glance at their accomplishments.