Saturday, December 15, 2007

Baseball's Roid Rage

Yes, I write about baseball, too, friends, and even though I'm probably the 10,764,960th person to comment on the issue of drugs, here goes.

I'm reminded more than somewhat of the passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, where Gatsby tells Nick, the narrator, that Meyer Wolfsheim helped fix the 1919 World Series. Nick muses about the way that stunt had shattered confidence in something so many people had trusted and revered, and wondered what sort of man could do it.

Now, 88 years later, we have the 21st Century parallel: the thought that some of the most revered and pedestalled players in the Grand Old Game had been cheating -- cheating worse than Eddie Cicotte throwing pitches so soft, "you could read the label on 'em" and Shoeless Joe Jackson running up a .375 average but not delivering when it really mattered.

All of the players who seemed bound for the Hall of Fame should automatically be exempted. If Pete Rose can be barred for gambling on the side -- and not against his own team, if I understand correctly -- that should be absolute Square Zero for these guys. Barry Bonds? Mark McGwire? Forget it! If Roger Maris gets an asterisk because he hit his 61 homers in more games than Babe Ruth did, those guys should get Liquid Paper.

It's not just about the fans today. It's about the players today who don't cheat -- and Curt Shilling, for one, says they're still in the vast majority -- and the players in past years who didn't cheat and performed their feats without performance-enhancing drugs. It's for young people who need to see that there are consequences for doing the wrong thing, even if "everybody else is doing it".

And there's one other thing to consider: as we shrug and even say the occasional "wow" at a monster Barry Bonds homer, there's a nasty little thing that creeps in, and that's called rationalization. We start to suspect the true heroes of the past -- like Henry Aaron and Willie Mays and Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and Gary Carter -- and mutter things like, "yeah, well, they probably did stuff in their day, too".

Says who? Performance-enhancing drugs weren't around then, and neither was the permissive attitude towards drugs in general. All we're doing is sullying one person's name to try to rationalize someone else's sin. And there's no justification for that.

We've all been suckers, played for the greed that comes with operations that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and salaries that make up a large part of it. They want their superstar? They have to pay him. They want to pay him? They have to park bottoms in the seats. They want people in the seats? They have to put on a show. They want to put on a show? They need their superstars hitting home runs, because the myth is that homers attract fans. And in order for the superstar to keep hitting home runs and chasing records, that superstar has to Do What It Takes -- even if it means breaking the law, flouting the rules, cheating the system, and destroying the confidence of the fans.

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