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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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First half had plenty to cheer about

Tim Dahlberg Associated Press

Baseball is pausing for a short break, Neifi Perez is taking a longer break and George Mitchell is still looking for his first big break.

The New York Yankees, meanwhile, are simply broken.

The baseball season is half over, and there’s plenty to chew over for both the optimists who view the glass half full and the pessimists who think the other way during this, the Summer of Bonds.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.

Drug use continues to cloud the game, though Perez is evidence that baseball’s improved drug testing is starting to work, even if there is no test for human growth hormone. His 25-game suspension for popping greenies will get more players reaching for coffee instead of pills to keep them going.

Mitchell could use a little something to perk himself up, too, after being handed Jason Giambi on a platter only to be told that Giambi cut a deal to talk only about himself. Mitchell must someday give baseball a report on steroids, and right now it looks as if it will be a slim one.

And then there’s that uncomfortable bit of business that will surely take place in San Francisco, probably within the next month or so. Bud Selig can’t decide whether to buy a plane ticket to the coast, but Henry Aaron had no trouble making up his mind.

But there’s a lot more to cheer about for those who love the game.

Players are getting rich, owners are getting richer, and this may really be a golden age for baseball. Sure, you’re paying for it, but fathers still bring their kids to the ballparks, and even years of strikes and scandals haven’t managed to kill the public’s appetite for the national pastime.

Revenue sharing may finally be beginning to pay dividends, with the best evidence in Milwaukee where the Brewers are on top of the N.L. Central. The Yankees, meanwhile, are a shining example that money can’t buy either happiness or a World Series title.

A look at some winners:

Milwaukee Brewers: There hasn’t been this much excitement in suds city since Randall Simon took out both the Italian sausage and the hot dog with one swipe of his bat. Selig is so happy with the team he once owned that he actually went to the ballpark to watch when Bonds came to town.

American League East: For the first time in 10 years, the Yankees won’t win the division title. If you do the math, they have to win two out of every three games the rest of the year to even contend for a wild card. The bad news is that the Red Sox aren’t so lovable anymore now that they are beginning to spend and act a lot like their bitter rivals.

Barry Bonds: Sure, he’s a suspected cheater, arrogant jerk and a blight on the game. Personality quirks aside, he’s still hitting home runs, pitchers are pitching around him again, and he’s about to become the greatest slugger ever. He’s also the oldest starter in All-Star history.

Old guys: Put Bonds and Roger Clemens on top of this list of a 40-something crowd that is having quite a year. Last month, six pitchers age 40 or over started games on the same night, and three of them won.

Gary Matthews: He’s a defensive star for an awfully good team, and hitting at a decent clip, too. Not bad for someone whose new $50 million contract appeared in jeopardy in spring training when it was reported he was allegedly shipped human growth hormone.

Yankee haters: When baseball fans are asked to name the team they hate most, four out of 10 pick the guys in pinstripes. Given that, the argument could be made that there’s nothing better for baseball than to see the Yankees in a free fall.

Scott Boras: The agent everyone but his clients love to hate managed to draw even more attention to himself with a silly proposal for a nine-game World Series.

Red Sox: J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo have been flops, and Curt Schilling is injured. But the Sox have a lead they can’t blow, while Daisuke Matsuzaka has been everything advertised, and more.

Bud Selig: He got to look tough by giving Giambi an ultimatum, and he’s presiding over unprecedented windfalls for owners. Soon the Bonds nightmare will be over, the steroid era will fade from public attention, and Selig will be celebrated as a great commissioner.

A-Rod: Imagine where the Yankees would be without Alex Rodriguez, who someday will likely pass Bonds to become the greatest home-run hitter. A-Rod and his wife are also trying to set records for most appearances on the front pages of the New York tabloids.

Fans: The ultimate winners this year despite ever-rising ticket prices. There are good races in most divisions, and 20 teams can still make a claim for having a shot at the playoffs. Soon there will even be a baseball channel for those long winters.

Enjoy the second half.

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