By Steve Williams

Baseball was once considered America’s national pastime. But it lost that distinction to the popularity of football many years ago.

Instead of remaining the great game it was, it has lost much, much more over the years because of some players’ unethical choices to gain an edge. For that, it has lost the love and respect of its true fans.

Baseball survived the Chicago “Black” Sox fixing the World Series in 1919, but since “Charlie Hustle” (Pete Rose) became Charlie Hustler in 1989 and was banned from the game for life for gambling on baseball, it has steadily gone downhill.

Major League baseball looked the other way when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa raced to erase Roger Maris’ name from the record book for most home runs during the steroid era in 1998. McGuire hit 70 that year and Sosa 66. Maris had hit 61 in 1961.

Then Barry Bonds took PEDs (physical-enhancing drugs) to another level to move past McGuire with 73 homers as a 37-year old in 2001. Bonds had never hit 50 homers before in his career. His unethical body-building ways eventually led him past Hank Aaron’s career record in 2007.

For the record, though steroids have been banned in MLB since 1991, the league did not implement league-wide PED testing until 2003. The lack of testing meant it was unlikely players using PEDs would get caught.

Last season, home runs flew out of ball parks at a record rate, despite starting pitchers usually working only six innings and managers sending in a different relief pitcher for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. With such stronger pitching, one would figure the home run total would be below average instead of above.

But America’s once great game became known for homers, strikeouts and juiced baseballs.

MLB looked the other way again.

Now, we’ve heard how the Houston Astros used modern day technology to steal signs of what pitch was coming for their hitters to wallop on the way to their World Series championship in 2017. They cheated to win, relaying signs to their batters by banging on a trash can.

Boston Red Sox players also may have been guilty of this kind of cheating on the way to the 2018 World Series title and are currently under investigation.

A hundred years ago, several Chicago White Sox players were approached by gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series and they agreed to do it for the dirty money. When found out, Shoeless Joe Jackson and a half-dozen or so others were banned from the game of baseball for life by then commissioner Mountain Landis.

Today’s baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, granted Houston players immunity for their confession of what happened in their sign stealing.

How weak is that?

Every single one of the Astros who took part in the cheating or knew of it and didn’t report it should be banned for life, like the Black Sox were for fixing the 1919 World Series.

Don’t hold your breath for that to happen.

Instead, just consider Major League Baseball now on the same level as professional wrestling. Strictly entertainment and nothing more.