Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sick of MLB, and Not Because Of Steroids ...

I'm sick of Major League Baseball.

Not of the players. Roger Clemens was on the juice? Good for him. He's won 7 Cy Young Awards. In 2001, at the age of 38, he started the season 20 & 1 ... no other pitcher in the history of baseball's done that. He won his 7th Cy Young at the age of 41 and posted his best ERA -- a remarkable 1.87 -- in 2005, at the age of 42.

Steroids did all that for him? Cool. Entirely his business if he had to buy new hats....

I don't have a problem with Barry Bonds (though he probably shouldn't have lied to the Feds, assuming he did.) I don't care that Barry Bonds was juiced when he broke Hank Aaron's home run record, or when he hit #72.

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire (who I went to school with, who I played against in Little League, and who hit #62 a few hours from the moment my son Richard was born) ... I don't care that Sammy and Mark were juiced when they assaulted Ruth's home run record.

Here's the thing: everyone knew. Everyone who could conceivably have cared, knew. You knew. I knew. The players knew. The media knew. The owners knew. Mark McGwire turned into the Incredible Hulk late in his career? And my goodness, look how large Sammy is, and Barry, wow, he's about the size of a minivan and the police departments across the country are looking enviously at the size of his skull, envisioning the greatest battering ram the world had ever seen, if only Barry would cooperate: and the LAPD has contingency plans that don't actually require cooperation from Barry, remind me to tell you all my favorite joke some day. ("Okay, I'm a bear, I'm a bear!")

Yeah, steroids are bad for you. So's booze in anything but very small quantities. So's cocaine, adjustable rate mortgages, and a career in the NFL. Mostly I don't worry too much about social hypocrisy; in tiny amounts, it's a lubricant that lets people get through their days without too much outright violence. No, your kid is not special, he's a little thug who's cruising to have his day as an LAPD Battering Ram, and that may be the high point of his entire miserable life. And your daughter's ugly and your husband keeps hitting on my wife until he gets drunk enough, after which he hits on me and I must say, this is only a modest improvement ....

But we don't actually say those things to people, because, you know, courtesy, or hypocrisy if you like.

Sports are valuable, are meaningful, only to the degree that they reflect life in some minor way. A basketball game between two Latin American teams I've never heard of is no more worth watching than a pickup game at my local park -- less so, I might learn something about a player I'm going to play against in a few games, watching the local guys. But a game between the Lakers and Celtics (Sunday, December 30, I'll be in Section 318) ... that's very different. That's an Epic Battle between Good and Evil, sort of the way the Dodgers and Yankees used to be an Epic Battle between Good and Evil, until O'Malley sold the Dodgers and Rupert Murdoch destroyed them, leaving only Evil behind: when Yeats wrote that the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were full of a passionate intensity, he was really writing about the Dodgers and Yankees (or maybe about the Dodgers and Murdoch: here's hoping Murdoch does for the Wall Street Journal what he did for my baseball team. I believe he's capable of it.)

... valuable and meaningful, I think I was saying, to the degree that they reflect life in some minor way. The technical exercise of a given sport is meaningless without someone to root for; Kobe Bryant is somewhere between the fifth and tenth best basketball player the NBA's ever seen (and the best playing today) -- but the astonishing skill he brings to the game, the fierceness, the dedication, are meaningless to observers unless they identify with it. (And, to be sure, the variety of ways you can identify are large -- "I Hate Kobe" and "I Love Kobe" are very nearly the same statement. "Kobe who?" is their opposite ...)

So we root. We cheer our guys on. And no one, no one anywhere in the baseball world, cared if the guys were juiced. Not really cared. Not cared because they cared about the integrity of the game of baseball. Push to shove, nobody thought this stuff damaged the game; that, the people who do love the game would have been up in arms about. When Bonds broke Aaron's home run record, I read at least a dozen sad, outraged, "this must have an asterisk" columns about it.

Really? Because ... Hank Aaron, for example ... came from a pure era. An era where men were men and people didn't cheat at the sacred game of baseball. Well, except Gaylord Perry. Who titled his autobiography "Me and the Spitter." And is safely ensconced in the Hall of Fame. So apparently cheating with vaseline is OK, it's just the cheating with steroids that's bad.

Certainly Aaron himself thinks cheating is bad. "Any way you look at it, it's wrong," he said about Bonds and Bonds' steroid use. So take a look here:

Good read, and good work by the author, whose name doesn't appear on the post. One of the things held against the steroid generation is how they got better as they got older, presumably because this was when they started on the juice ... and here are Aaron's stats:

Age HRs HR%
33 44 7.3
34 39 6.5
35 29 4.8
36 44 8.0
37 38 7.4
38 47 9.5
39 34 7.6
40 40 10.2

Pretty good work, for a guy at the age of 40: one home run in every ten at bats.

I've never heard it authoritatively stated that Aaron used either steroids or amphetamines. (Or to put it another way, I've heard it repeatedly, but not from someone I was prepared to believe really knew.) But -- and whether this is fair to Aaron or not I neither know nor care -- I think he did.

Tom House, who's mentioned at length in the Typepad post I linked to above, says that he thinks that baseball is cleaner today, "steroid era" and all, than it was when he played. I tend to think he's correct. Baseball players, at the professional level, are among the fiercest competitors on the planet. If there's an edge, they'll take it.

And it's OK with me. I'm not trying to piss on Hank Aaron's record; I don't care if he was juiced, or on speed, later in his career. I don't care if Bonds was, or Clemens, or any other player in the entire game. If you knew how many rules had been broken by men in Cooperstown -- and kicked out every damn one of them for it -- Cooperstown would be half empty. Or two-thirds.

They're adults. So are we writing about this, mostly. This is the bargain we all made, to look the other way, and I'm good with that. Thank you, Barry, Mark, Sammy, Roger, all of you: made the game a pleasure to watch during an era when the Dodgers barely got my pulse moving. And I'm sorry for any of the crap you're taking now: take comfort in the knowledge that the people judging you are, almost with exception, bigger hypocrites than any of you.

1 comment:

Steve Perry said...

I'm with you. All the hoopla about 'roids? Please. As long as there have been jocks, they have been looking for ways to jump higher, run faster, and lift more weight, and anabolic steroids are just another way to do it.

Human Growth Hormone works, too, but it can be really scary -- you can wind up looking like The Creeper ...

As a skinny kid, I read the bodybuilding magazines, and by the 1960's, all the winning bodybuilders were moving to better living through chemistry. For the last twenty years, nobody has won a major bodybuilding competition without an assist from Mr. Testosterone and his friends.

Working as a PA at a clinic in the mid-70's, I had guys from the local gym come in and ask for the juice. Back then, most doctors didn't believe they worked.

And they don't do big magic -- you still have to go lift the weights or run the sprints. What they do is allow you to work harder and build muscle faster -- you can take all of them you want and if you lie on the couch instead of the bench press, you won't get a whit bigger or stronger.

The side-effects can be nasty, and I wouldn't risk them, but I once had a T-shirt that said "Steroids -- Breakfast Of Champions!" done on a Wheaties box background.

And it's true ...