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Column: NHL quickly responds to Kane betting allegations

Column: NHL quickly responds to Kane betting allegations

One thing seems clear by glancing at social media surrounding San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane. He has some issues, and his wife says betting on his own team is one of them.Anna Kane said some other things, too, in an Instagram post over the weekend that also accused the hockey player of partying in Europe while the bank was going after their house and she was struggling to buy formula for their baby.Awful, of course, if true. But there are two sides to every story, and Kane responded by saying he and his wife are going through a contentious divorce and denied he had ever bet on any game he played in — or any NHL games at all, for that matter.“I love the game of hockey and would never do any of what was alleged,’’ Kane posted online.Where the truth lies remains to be seen. But the NHL was so alarmed by the allegations that the league immediately launched an investigation into them.With good reason. Any inkling that games are being thrown or somehow compromised because players are betting on the game is the worst nightmare of a commissioner of any major sport.But when you’re suddenly all in on sports betting like the NHL and other major leagues are, it’s hard to find the proper moral high ground to occupy. What was once a sin is now a profit center embraced by sports leagues eager to make a few dollars any way they can.Still, throwing games is throwing games. And that’s also on the list of allegations Anna Kane delivered on Instagram.“The integrity of our game is paramount and the League takes these allegations very seriously,’’ the NHL said in a statement.That Kane was involved in gambling, if not sports betting itself, was common knowledge before Anna Kane made her allegations on Instagram. Kane was sued by a Las Vegas casino for unpaid gambling debts of $500,000 run up while the Sharks were playing in Las Vegas in 2019, and a California bankruptcy filing earlier this year obtained by The Athletic indicated he lost $1.5 million gambling over the previous year.But there’s gambling and then there’s sports betting. For years, the major sports leagues treated them the same — but now that they have skin in the game they are careful to point out the differences.Losing money at a craps table isn’t especially concerning. Losing while betting on your own games is another matter indeed.In another time, Paul Hornung and Alex Karros lost a year in the NFL because they wagered a few hundred dollars on football games. Their 1963 suspension came complete with a warning about the curse of gambling from commissioner Pete Rozelle.“This sport has grown so quickly and gained so much of the approval of the American public that the only way it can be hurt is through gambling,” Rozelle said.Meanwhile, Pete Rose recently turned 80 and the man who will likely hold the major league hits record forever remains ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Though Major League Baseball and its teams now have lucrative deals with various betting sites, Rose remains a pariah for doing what the league tries to entice millions of sports fans to do now — bet on its games.Rose’s ban should have been rescinded years ago, but that’s a topic for another time. Rose has long since paid his penalty and baseball has long since made its point.If gamblers don’t think a game is on the up and up, they’ll stop betting. If fans don’t think games are on the up and up, they’ll stop watching.Still, it would be awfully hard for an individual player to successfully throw a game. Betting lines are constantly analyzed on both sides of the counter, and the amount of money needed to fix a game would be easily spotted long before a puck is dropped or a football is kicked.That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just awfully hard. And that’s why leagues have rules about players betting on their own sports and their own teams, even if there are sports books in the stadiums and arenas where they play.So, yes, the NHL should be alarmed about Anna Kane’s claims. The league should investigate them and do it quickly.A lot of things have changed in the last few years as sports betting becomes a part of the accepted sports fabric. Leagues are delicately balancing added income from sports betting deals against the possibility something nefarious could happen because of them.One thing that hasn’t changed is the bedrock rule that players don’t bet on their own sport, much less their own games.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Column: For Biles, it finally all becomes too much

Column: For Biles, it finally all becomes too much

Finally, it all became too much. Simone Biles felt it hours before she took the floor in Tokyo, a nervousness she couldn’t explain as she waited to deliver what everyone except her was sure would be a gold medal for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.“I was just like shaking, could barely nap,” Biles said. “I’ve never felt like this going into a competition before.”Five years ago, she came through for her country with a haul of four golds and a silver in Rio. But this night in Japan — with the official coronation of her Olympic greatness at stake — proved one bridge too far, even for the gymnast considered by many to be the greatest ever.Not only was Biles supposed to lead her team to gold, but to jumpstart an Olympics that is being largely ignored at home. She was facing the pressure of Olympic history while also being tasked with bringing eyeballs to primetime Tuesday night TV to help salvage the billion dollars or so that NBC spent to land the games.That she failed before she even started was as stunning as it was dispiriting. She had no injury and offered no other excuses before withdrawing after a poor vault in the first rotation.Just not enough mental focus to feel she could compete with her teammates against the Russians and everyone else.If it was shocking, it couldn’t have been all that surprising. Olympic history is littered with athletes who for one reason or another couldn’t rise to the occasion.Add to that the fact that being the face of the Olympics for an entire nation is hard, extraordinarily hard.On the same day Biles found herself unable to continue, Japan’s Naomi Osaka was unceremoniously bounced from the games amid continuing questions about her mental health that prompted her to withdraw from the French Open two months ago. Like Biles, the tennis player was supposed to be her country’s star athlete, and the intensity mounted when she was chosen to light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.It didn’t matter that there were no fans on hand to watch her lose in the third round of the Olympic tennis tournament. Eyeballs around Japan were focused on her every move, and she felt every one of them.“I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this,” Osaka said. “I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year (it) was a bit much.”Part of the problem is the Olympics themselves. They take on outsized importance for many athletes, who understand that not only are they competing for their country but also only have a chance on the big stage every four years.Come through and you’re a hero. Fail, and the finger pointing begins.Dan Jansen was a victim of that, long before mental health was something athletes were comfortable discussing. The best speed skater in the world, he fell in two races in the 1988 Olympics as the television cameras were recording his every move as the expected star of the games.Jansen was also competing after just learning his sister had died from leukemia. Still, a skater who seemed destined to win a handful of Olympic medals would only end up with one in four different games.Dan O’Brien, on the other hand, had a meltdown even before his first Olympics. He and decathlon rival Dave Johnson were the subject of a big ad campaign by Reebok before the 1992 games. America knew him well, and his story rivaled that of the Dream Team as summer approached.But O’Brien famously missed on a pole vault mark in the Olympic trials and never qualified for Barcelona.Four years later, O’Brien got a second chance, this time without the ad campaign and without a lot of the pressure. He would win gold in Atlanta for the kind of redemption most Olympic athletes never get.Like O’Brien, Biles will get a second shot — if she wants it. After her teammates finished second to Russia in the team competition, she said she would regroup before deciding whether to continue in the individual events.Her teammates still want her. Her country still needs her. And an Olympics longing for big stars is desperate for her.“To see her kind of go out like that is very sad because this Olympic Games, I feel like, is kind of hers,” teammate Sunisa Lee said.Just as no one should dispute Biles’ greatness, no one should argue with her decision. She’s in charge of herself, and anyone doubting her resolve should take a look at her trophy case.She’s thrilled us before, and it didn’t even look like she was trying. Shame on us if we thought it would be easy for her to do it again.On this night, at this Olympics, it was simply too much.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or https://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Column: Oosthuizen hard to pronounce and hard to finish

Column: Oosthuizen hard to pronounce and hard to finish

For a long time, the hardest thing about being a Louis Oosthuizen fan was figuring out how to pronounce his last nameBy TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports ColumnistJuly 18, 2021, 9:01 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleFor a long time, the hardest thing about being a Louis Oosthuizen fan was figuring out how to pronounce his last name.Now it’s figuring out what’s going on inside his mind.Two major championships seemingly his for the asking in the space of a month. Two final rounds that left a lot of fans shaking their heads.He gave one away on the coast of California with a drive into the canyon at the U.S. Open that no one expected. Then he let Collin Morikawa zoom past him on the front nine in the British Open, an outcome that seemed almost inevitable from the time the final pairing teed off Sunday on the coast of England.Oh, yeah, he also finished second to Phil Mickelson two months ago in the PGA Championship, another major that was there for the taking.What’s it take for a guy to win a major anyway? Oosthuizen surely wants to know, as the memory of his British Open win in 2010 fades further into the past.He managed to get away from Royal St. George’s without letting anyone else know. While Morikawa was accepting the claret jug, Oosthuizen left without talking about his latest Sunday failure, a puzzling decision because he has always been a thoughtful interview.The day before, he hinted at his strategy for taking a lead into the final round. Turns out it was just to play golf, something that didn’t work out too well in the two majors that preceded the last one of the year.“I think all of us are just human to think of lifting the trophy, and that’s going to be in your mind,” Oosthuizen said. “But I think you just need to know it and how to handle it.”His latest near miss wasn’t exactly a meltdown, so Oosthuizen can be thankful for that. It wasn’t like last month when he was leading the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines before hitting his tee shot into a canyon on the 17th hole as Jon Rahm was making birdie putts on the last two holes.But on a day when birdies were plentiful — Morikawa and the two guys right behind him on the leaderboard each shot 66 — Oosthuizen couldn’t summon the kind of golf he has played in the first three rounds of the last three majors.He had not made a bogey on the front nine at Royal St. George’s until Sunday. He lost the lead to a Morikawa birdie while trying to find his way out of bunkers on the par-5 seventh hole and never came close to the lead again despite playing 1 under the rest of the way.“The seventh hole was definitely the turning point,” said Morikawa, who at the age of 24 already has two major championship wins. “I’m not sure what happened with his first bunker shot, if he had a tough lie or anything, but just to have that little switch of a two-shot swing kind of got that round started and into another gear in a sense.”About the only bright spot for the soft-spoken South African was he tied for third with a final-round 71, relieving everyone from reminding him that he would have become only the second player in history to be runner-up in three straight majors. His mentor, Ernie Els, was the other.Not that it would have mattered all that much to Oosthuizen. This is a guy who enjoys life on his newly purchased ranch in Florida, a guy who posted a hilarious video of himself lip-synching “Rise Up” on an airplane after completing his career runner-up grand slam in 2017 at the PGA Championship.He never got his due from winning the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010, largely because he’s never won a regular PGA Tour event. But after the huge amounts of TV time he got in his last three majors, he’s now a household name for the wrong reason.With a few breaks — like Bubba Watson not hitting an insane shot out of the trees to beat him in a Masters playoff — Oosthuizen could easily have a handful of majors by now. He lost another one to Zach Johnson in a three-way playoff at St. Andrews in 2015, but it’s his streak this year that has people taking notice.For three days he owned this British Open, leading after each round. For three days people were talking about his remarkable play in majors this year.He came up short yet again. But at least now people know how to pronounce his name.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Column: No need for the NCAA in new world of college sports

Column: No need for the NCAA in new world of college sports

It wasn’t that long ago that NCAA President Emmert was arguing that the very future of college sports was at stake should rules against accepting money be wiped off the booksBy TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports ColumnistJuly 17, 2021, 8:03 PM• 5 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleIt’s taken way too long but, finally, Mark Emmert is speaking the truth. He’s seen the future, and it doesn’t include him or his colleagues at the NCAA.Actually, Emmert isn’t quite going that far. He still wants the NCAA to exist, if only to regulate small sports and continue to ride the gravy train that is the NCAA basketball tournament.“You can lean back and do nothing and then just wait and see what happens,” Emmert told a group of reporters this week. “Or you can say, ‘Look, we’re in it. This is a new era.’ We need to take advantage of it, pivot as much as we can … and embrace that change rather than fighting it.”That by itself is a remarkable statement for the man who, at least for now, is still tasked with ensuring the NCAA remains relevant in an era where many of the things it does are no longer necessary. It’s not quite a concession, but a reflection of the reality that college athletes being allowed to have a few dollars in their pockets has changed everything.It wasn’t that long ago that Emmert was squarely in the other camp, arguing that the very future of college sports was at stake should rules against accepting money be wiped off the books.Now he believes conferences and individual schools should point the way toward finding the path forward. Assuming, of course, they don’t interfere with the basketball tournament that brings in hundreds of millions a year to NCAA coffers.“I think this is a really, really propitious moment to sit back and look at a lot of the core assumptions and say, ‘You know, if we were going to build college sports again, and in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?’” Emmert said.The truth is, it’s way past time to upend the archaic structure that served those running college sports well, if not the athletes themselves. Emmert and his ilk have known for more than a decade now that this day was coming, but that didn’t stop them from fighting it every step of the way.I was in the courtroom in Oakland, California, in 2014 when the trial that eventually upended college sports as we know them unfolded. Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and others sued the NCAA to force it to recognize the rights of athletes to own their name, likeness and images, and the NCAA trotted out Emmert and others to take the witness stand to tell the judge what horrors would take place if she ruled in the favor of the plaintiffs.Among those testifying was the commissioner of the Big Ten at the time, Jim Delany, who said the idea of paying players would ruin the college experience and destroy the business model of big-time college sports. Delany testified that if members of his league paid players they would be kicked out of the conference, and that it could bring about the end of the Rose Bowl as it was then structured.Now the questions must be asked: What purpose does the NCAA even serve anymore? Why shouldn’t it simply be disbanded?The answer to the first question is easy enough. Outside of running March Madness, the NCAA oversees championships in a variety of sports, providing a framework for crowning national champions in sports like golf, lacrosse, baseball, softball and golf and tennis.Until now, the NCAA has also functioned as a policing network to make sure athletes didn’t get fancy cars or enough money to take their dates out to a movie and dinner. But with the Supreme Court paving the way for athletes to accept money there’s no way — or need — to police sports programs anymore.It used to be rich boosters would provide the star quarterback a $75,000 SUV to tool around town. Now players will be able to use earnings from endorsements or TikTok videos to buy their own vehicles, eliminating the middleman.College athletics are changing and changing fast. They no longer need an organization whose main purpose for so many years was to play defense against those changes.It’s time to face reality. The NCAA is no longer relevant going forward.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlbergT

Column: A few puffs and a bad rule do Richardson in

Column: A few puffs and a bad rule do Richardson in

AP Sports Columnist Tim Dahlberg says Sha’Carri Richardson should have been a breakout star in an Olympics desperate for any kind of positive joltBy TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports ColumnistJuly 7, 2021, 9:23 PM• 5 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleShe could have — make that should have — been a breakout star in an Olympics desperate for any kind of positive jolt. Sha’Carri Richardson has the look and she has the goods, and it wasn’t out of the question to picture her walking around Tokyo with a pair of gold medals draped around her neck.That it won’t happen is as much Richardson’s fault as it is the doing of arcane doping rules. A few puffs of marijuana wouldn’t have helped her win the 100-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics, but they were enough to get her booted from the U.S. team even before it was officially named.Was it fair? The answer likely depends on which prism you’re looking through when debating the use of marijuana. In Richardson’s case, it also involves considering the mindset of a 21-year-old who had just lost her biological mother and was on the verge of another life-changing event in the Olympics.Clearly, she couldn’t have picked a worse time to smoke pot. The idea that she would jeopardize so much for so little is head-shaking at best — no matter how anyone feels about marijuana still being on the banned list on the Olympic stage.Still, the price Richardson will end up paying will turn out to be outsized for doing what millions of Americans do legally every day. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime, especially because her only crime is that she violated doping rules that have nothing to do with upholding the integrity of her sport.That means no gold medals. No prime-time television appearances, and no endorsement contracts bringing in millions of dollars.Forget getting on a Wheaties box. Richardson won’t even get to the starting line in these Games, and she’ll have three long years to wait before another Olympics comes along.Her plight is as sad as it was preventable. No one comes out a winner, and an Olympics already shaping up to a joyless exercise held under a state of emergency in Japan will miss the flamboyance of an American who likes to run with long fingernails and flowing orange hair.It drew attention at the highest places, with the White House even taking notice.“It does stink,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN. “I don’t think there’s a better definition of it.”Psaki then suggested the rules — which were already loosened several years ago — need to be tweaked even more to reflect the change in the world’s attitude toward marijuana.By coincidence, they were in Nevada on Wednesday, when the Nevada Athletic Commission voted to continue to test boxers and MMA fighters for marijuana but not punish them in any way for using a drug that is legal in the state. Nevada has a long history of being the leader in setting rules for combat sports, making it likely that other states will follow.“Marijuana is considered to be a substance of abuse and not a performance-enhancing drug,” said Bob Bennett, the commission’s executive director. “I think our goal is to test performance-enhancing drugs in an effort to ensure there’s a level playing field.”Unfortunately for Richardson, things don’t move nearly as fast in the anti-doping world. And while her suspension is for only 30 days, that time period includes the days the 100 will be held in Tokyo.Any chance she could have been added to the 4×100 U.S. relay team — which races after the suspension will be over — were erased Tuesday when USA Track & Field released a roster that did not include the sprinter. Putting her on the relay team sounded like a logical compromise, but it would have meant taking off one other runner who had already been promised a spot in the Olympics.Almost lost in the outcry over Richardson’s suspension was the reaction of the runner herself. She showed remarkable grace beyond her years, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show not to argue that she should be put on the team but to explain that her mother’s recent death combined with the pressure of preparing for trials led her to use the drug on the eve of winning the 100 in the Olympic trials last month in Oregon.Had she had a glass of wine instead, she would be packing her bags for Tokyo. It’s an irony not lost on marijuana advocates, though Richardson indicated she was already moving on.“All these perfect people that know how to live life, I’m glad I’m not one of them!” she tweeted later, adding “2022-2025 undefeated!”———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Column: WNBA aside, player vaccinations remain an issue

Column: WNBA aside, player vaccinations remain an issue

The numbers are in and the WNBA has something to brag aboutBy TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports ColumnistJune 29, 2021, 9:48 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe numbers are in, and the WNBA has something to brag about. The league declared Monday that 99% of its players have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and all 12 teams are considered fully vaccinated.That’s impressive, though it’s a bit odd that league officials chose to use percentages instead of giving actual numbers. Still, assuming the percentages are accurate, it means just one player — or possibly two — in the entire league remains unvaccinated.That by itself is a remarkable success story for the WNBA. It’s also a statement to other leagues that a vaccine that has proven extraordinarily effective can provide a path toward normalcy once again.North Carolina State baseball coaches should have been paying attention. Had they pushed players to get vaccinated anywhere near the WNBA level — and gotten vaccinated themselves — they very well could have been playing for the national championship in Omaha, Nebraska, this week instead of watching from home on TV.Meanwhile, seven Major League baseball teams remain under the 85% vaccination threshold they need to reach to have coronavirus protocols relaxed. Potential trouble also looms as the NFL prepares to open training camps next month with more restrictive rules — including masks and daily testing — for players who aren’t vaccinated.And then there’s Japan, where an Olympics postponed one year because of the pandemic begins July 23. Nerves that were already on edge over the prospect of thousands of people from around the world entering the country were frayed a bit more with the news that two Ugandan team members who arrived in Japan early tested positive for the virus — with at least one having the highly contagious Delta variant.To be clear, there’s a lot to cheer about during the first real summer of sports since the pandemic began. Masks are mostly gone, teams are playing before big crowds and it seems on the surface at least as if everything is normal.Except it isn’t. Unvaccinated people are still getting infected — and there are worries the more easily spread Delta variant will infect even more.That’s a minor concern now for the WNBA, which can play the remainder of the season with few restrictions. But it’s potentially a big issue as NFL training camps open without nearly the vaccination rates the WNBA is crowing about.Veteran Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley has staked out his ground already, saying he would rather retire than get the vaccination.“I will be outside doing what I do,” Beasley tweeted. “I’ll be out in the public. If your scared of me then steer clear or get vaccinated. Point. Blank. Period. I may die of Covid but I’d rather die actually living.”Beasley’s thinking is, of course, as irrational as it is self-absorbed. His attempt at logic not only doesn’t make much sense but has the potential to fracture a team considered a Super Bowl contender even before the season starts.It’s not clear how many NFL players are vaccinated, or how many will come to training camp without shots. But with rosters of up to 90 in camp — and national vaccination rates lagging — it figures to be a sizeable number.That means different protocols for the vaccinated and unvaccinated. It means play will be disrupted, and it means teams will be split between vaccine and non-vaccine factions.Not to mention it’s just silly.“If you’re not vaccinated you’re just living in a different world,” Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson said on a recent podcast. “Why put yourself at risk of going through that again?”Athletes have a simple choice. They have the right to ignore science and the tens of millions who have safely been vaccinated and refuse to get the shots.Or they can be like Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, who visited underprivileged areas in Los Angeles this week to encourage vaccinations.“Just trying to get everyone to understand we need to get the world back to normal and it starts with this,” Betts said.The WNBA players understood that, at least when it comes to their league. Because they did, the remainder of the WNBA season will be played in conditions that should be about as normal as possible.And that’s something to brag about.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Column: Sticky stuff should just be the start for baseball

Column: Sticky stuff should just be the start for baseball

A few days into Rob Manfred’s crackdown on cheating pitchers, it’s pretty much business as usual across the big leaguesBy TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports ColumnistJune 26, 2021, 8:53 PM• 5 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe four Cubs pitchers were checked one by one as they left the mound Thursday night, and all passed inspection. Getting a grip on the baseball didn’t seem to be an issue at Dodger Stadium, where the visiting hurlers combined to throw the seventh no-hitter of the season in the major leagues.Somehow, they managed to do it without hitting even one batter, laying to rest — for one night, at least — one of the lamest excuses offered up by pitchers desperate to keep putting sticky stuff on the ball. The idea that professional pitchers can’t control where the ball goes without super glue on it is about as preposterous as saying teams can’t get three outs in an inning without using a shift.The same night in Florida, Boston pitchers took a no-hitter of their own into the eighth inning in a game the Red Sox would lose 1-0 to Tampa Bay. Professional hitters on both teams combined for a grand total of six hits while striking out 19 times.And on Friday, Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola tied a major league record set 51 years ago by Tom Seaver by striking out 10 Mets in a row.Not even a week into Rob Manfred’s crackdown on cheating pitchers, it’s pretty much business as usual across the big leagues. Spin rates may be down a bit but little else seems to have changed other than the side show that unfolds every time an umpire approaches a pitcher to make sure nothing is being hidden.Hitters are still swinging and missing. And, so far at least, no one has been decapitated by a pitch that got away.Apparently the old standby of sweat and rosin works pretty well, too. Either that or pitchers have found a way to apply the sticky stuff and still manage to avoid detection.Whatever, the crackdown on sticky substances isn’t the game changer pitchers claimed it would be — or, it seems, the quick fix Manfred was after.Conversely, it also doesn’t seem to be doing much to make the game any more watchable, though Manfred quickly claimed credit for what he said were positive trends in the analytics department.But do give the commissioner credit for doing something — anything, really — to save a game that is in undeniable decline.Lost in the theatrics — and semi-hysterics — over the shakedown pitchers must now endure is a simple calculation about major league baseball that has become apparent as the midpoint of the season nears.Fewer things are happening in baseball games. And it’s taking them longer to happen.That’s a losing recipe for any sport fighting for the eyeballs in today’s fractured media world. But for baseball it’s becoming a crisis that threatens the game itself.The newly implemented enforcement of the ban on sticky stuff on baseballs won’t suddenly make things more interesting. MLB has let things go for too long to get the game back in one fell swoop.But it just might prompt other changes to save the game we all love.Manfred seems to understand that, even if he has presided over a degradation of baseball that began in earnest on Bud Selig’s watch. America’s national pastime is on its way to becoming a niche sport, and those running it ignore the slide in popularity at their own risk.That there are more strikeouts than hits is only one part of a bigger problem. Baseball has turned into home run derby, with pitchers throwing as hard as they can, hitters swinging even harder, and little else happening otherwise.Meanwhile, those who love the game for its strategy and nuances have watched, baffled that it could go this far.That Manfred decided his first line of attack will be against cheaters who load up baseballs with sticky substances is, of course, loaded with irony. This is the same commissioner who refused to punish Houston players after they cheated their way to a World Series title in 2017, and he follows a commissioner who did little about steroid cheaters who helped get us where we are today.But this is more about trying to correct an imbalance in the game than it is to ferret out cheaters. It’s doing something proactive to boost baseball other than simply trotting out some hideous new All-Star uniforms.It’s also sending a message in advance of talks on a new collective bargaining agreement with players this postseason that if they don’t agree to changes in the game, the commissioner has the power to do some things on his own.The bottom line is baseball has been trending in the wrong direction for a long time now.And even a small step toward reversing that beats doing nothing at all.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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