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Baseball has lost some of its magic

The other night ESPN ran a great documentary on former Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela as part of its 30-30 series.

It took me down Memory Lane as I remembered the 1981 season when the young Mexican-born pitcher created "Fernandomania" with an 8-0 start, including five shutouts.

He also earned Rookie of the Year honors and won the Cy Young Award all in the same season thanks to a nasty screwball that even some of the best hitters of the day couldn't figure out.

The Dodgers also captured a World Series, beating Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfeld and the New York Yankees.

It was a great time to be a baseball fan. I loved the game back in the 1970s and 80s, and the start of the season was almost as special as Christmas or my birthday.

I lived for Saturdays and the "Game of the Week," about the only time a fan could watch a game on television back then. My transistor radio that sat on my night stand was one of my prized possessions, as Jack Buck let me know how the Cardinals were doing over KMOX radio.

Wednesday night the World Series started between the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco won, but frankly I hardly paid attention.

Somehow I have lost passion for the game.

Sure, I am now 46 and far removed from my childhood days, but in some ways the Great American Pastime has lost its luster.

Sure, Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward plays the game with emotion and excitement. Just like he did when he was 7, the first time I ever witnessed his talents on the baseball diamond.

Maybe I was spoiled. After all, I whet my appetite on great pitchers like Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver. These guys would pitch on a few days rest if needed, and actually toss a complete game.

Today, the words "complete game" are not even part of a pitcher's vocabulary.

Rod Crew won the AL batting title six out of seven years in the 1970s. Bill Madlock and Tony Gwynn were two of the National League's best hitters in the 1970s and 80s.

Watching Hank Aaron chase down Babe Ruth to become the all-time home run leader was one of my best childhood memories.

On top of it, these guys did it without the benefit of steroids. They studied the game, almost taking a scientific approach to getting better, not a chemically ingested one.

Are all guys who play the game professionally today bad apples? Of course not. Class acts like Heyward do exist, and there are plenty of modern-day players who fit the bill.

Atlanta fans were privileged to see one of the greatest pitching staffs of all time when Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were together.

Former Braves manager Bobby Cox will go down as one of the best managers ever, and there have been some great ones.

But it's hard to love the game as much when off-the-field bad news seems to dominate the headlines.

Is baseball still a great game? Yes.

Will I love it as much as I used too?

No way, and there's nothing that can be done about that.

I guess you can blame it on my mid-life crisis.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com)