2002 Heisman Trophy


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Debased Ball

Never mind the Devil Rays. Did anyone in baseball have a worse year than baseball itself? During a dismal 2002, Major League Baseball offered a total package of just about everything that's wrong with sports today. Labor strife? Check. At, quite literally, the 11th hour, baseball avoided yet another work stoppage when the owners and the players' union agreed on a contract. Still, the preceding months of billionaires bickering with millionaires exacted a price from disillusioned fans. Performance-enhancing drugs? Check. For years, many watched leviathans clobber home runs and suspected that perhaps not just the balls were juiced. But when 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated in June that he had abused steroids -- along with, he estimated, "at least half" the current players in the league -- the prevalence of performing-enhancing drugs in baseball became more than idle speculation. Financial ills? Check. While small-market teams like the Oakland A's and the contraction-threatened Minnesota Twins fared admirably against big-market behemoths, the gulf between baseball's "haves" and "have-nots" widened. How desperate is the situation? The financial disaster that is the Montreal Expos will try to raise revenues by playing as many as 22 games in Puerto Rico next season. Flagging ratings? Check. The World Series, a riveting seven-game classic between the San Francisco Giants and Anaheim Angels, could have salvaged the season. If only anyone had been watching. The ratings for the Fall Classic were the worst ever. Baseball, of course, is not the only sport with problems. But it seems to be the only one that acts so masochistically. Baseball is desperate to reconnect with fans, so, naturally, the commissioner calls the All-Star Game before a winner is declared. Baseball needs to court a younger demographic, so, naturally, it starts World Series games after 8 p.m. on the East Coast. Baseball needs to weed out steroids before every hitting record is rendered suspect, so, naturally, it devises a testing policy that has fewer teeth than Grandpa Simpson. This may have just been an annus horribilis. But the events of 2002 prompt the question: Has time passed for the national pastime?

--Jon Wertheim

• John Donovan: A season to remember
• Stephen Cannella: National pastime is past its prime
• Labor Daze: Negotiators avoid work stoppage with last-minute deal
• Tom Verducci: Baseball got the All-Star fiasco it's been asking for
• Sports Illustrated, June 3, 2002: Totally juiced
• Tom Verducci: Baseball's worst-kept secret

Photographs by Andy Lyons/Getty Images, Darren McCollester/Getty Images, James Porto