The All-Star game is being played in Phoenix tonight, and it is the traditional midpoint of the baseball season. It also happens to be the date on the calendar furthest away from any major sports' regularly scheduled game.

NPR's Mike Pesca took the opportunity to look around and assess the state of all of our games. Sorry is among the kinder words that came to mind.

MIKE PESCA: Sport is a contract. Yes, there are the kinds of contracts between players and owners, the kinds that have two leagues shut down simultaneously. And, yes, there is the literal contract in tiny print on every baseball ticket taking away a fan's right to sue if struck by a foul ball.

But the big contract goes like this: The fan accepts that there can be no thrill of victory without the agony of defeat. You may be blessed to be a Dallas Cowboys fan or fated to have the Cleveland Browns as your particular Sisyphean rock.

But you will take the bad times, not necessarily revel in them or buy Brady Quinn jerseys to mark them, but you will accept them.

With a loser for every winner, the universe is sitting at .500. This is why the current situation isn't merely a bad time for sports. We, are in fact, experiencing a rift in the basic compact.

Mr. L. JON WERTHEIM (Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated): I mean, this has been sort of a bummer sports summer for fans. It's sportspocalypse.

PESCA: L. Jon Wertheim has written for Sports Illustrated for 15 years. He looks at the trial of Roger Clemens, the bankruptcy of the Dodgers, the lockouts in the NFL and the NBA, the sad fate of Tiger Woods, and a Tour de France with a doping appeal hanging over the top rider and sees the sports landscape as unprecedentedly bleak.

Mr. WERTHEIM: Yeah, we've had labor strikes and work stoppages in the past, and teams have gone into bankruptcy in the past, but not this daily drumbeat where you just say, oh, no.

PESCA: Oh, poor fan, you might be saying, persisting in the childish belief that sport is just a game. But this is not the case. The fans' lament is not born of naivete. We're willing to pay sometimes extortionary prices for the product. But where is the product?

And even when we're not robbed of the product, we're robbed of the normal rhythms of victory and celebration, as with the NHL finals.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Woman: This was the catalyst. The first car set on fire. It would be the first of many. This is just moments after the cup was delivered to the Boston Bruins.

PESCA: With one league resolving in riot, the other two in labor strife, this was supposed to be baseball summer to shine. But if it's not for Derek Jeter's career achievement of 3,000 hits, there's been a lack of compelling baseball stories.

And anytime a baseball player shows offensive promise, fans can't help but cast their eyes at the Rocket in the federal docket and other alleged steroid abusers, says L. Jon Wertheim.

Mr. WERTHEIM: Mark McGwire and Bonds and Clemens are the shoe bombers, and players today are the guys getting groped in the security line. And, yeah, you can't achieve anything in baseball today without having a fairly big chunk of the sports public raising a skeptical eyebrow - I know exactly.

PESCA: Perhaps, we fall into that trap of the sports fan thinking that the latest loss was the worst ever, and that your team is far sorrier than any which wore the Cleveland Spiders uniform.

But veteran reporter Robert Lipsyte, who covered the tumultuous times of trailblazing baseball free agent Curt Flood and Muhammad Ali, says we are living in a summer horribilis.

Mr. ROBERT LIPSYTE (Sportswriter): Sports is soap opera. The statistics, you know, are great, and who wins and loses are great, too, but the idea of having, you know, heroes and villains, people that you can identify with, is extremely nourishing and gets you from day to day.

PESCA: Right. And that is why these strikes are different. It's not like a bad development in your soap opera. It's like your soap opera getting canceled.

Mr. LIPSYTE: Absolutely. That's why this really is, you know, the end of the soap opera. What are you going to do tomorrow?

PESCA: Well, tomorrow, there is hope - and Abby and Megan and a couple of Heathers. The U.S. women's soccer team seems to be the one exception to the gloom of our collective games. Their recent victory over Brazil is being described as one of the greatest soccer matches on any stage.

Tomorrow, they face France in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup. The event is being held in Germany, and the team has been concentrating on their own efforts, so they may not be aware just how badly we could all use a win.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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