Baseball is for Boys

Posted in: Featured | By: | January 11, 2010

“Baseball was a game made for kids, and only grown-ups screw it up.” – Bob Lemon

The news that Mark McGwire has admitted taking steroids has the shock value of the earth continuing to spin on its axis.  The fact that he confirmed what everyone already knew is nothing more than an act of expediency so that he can re-enter baseball and earn a living by working as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Unfortunately, he has betrayed baseball as did Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and the countless others that have acknowledged they put performance enhancers into their bloodstreams.  McGwire was quoted as saying, “I wish that I hadn’t played in the steroid era,” as if, just by juxtaposition and coincidence, he was compelled to take drugs to grow his biceps.  No self-discipline can be utilized apparently when you are caught up in an “era.”

When the slugger was starting out as a slender young man with Oakland, McGwire had already developed a beautiful hitter’s swing.  Steroids did not give him a natural stroke with the bat but they added tensile strength to his forearms and his biceps and triceps and increased his bat speed with less effort, which, as statisticians have noted, launched more homers.  And as has been famously stated, “Chicks dig the long ball.”  So do fans and owners that are hoping to draw more people to the seats in their ballparks.  Major league baseball owners are complicit in what happened to players in the steroid era, as are the coaches and trainers.  There is no way they were oblivious to the scourge moving through their locker rooms and the jumps in player output.  McGwire said he only used them one year – 1998 – which is more bunk.  His chest didn’t start busting buttons on his uniform during that one year.  Transformations take time, even when they are expedited by drugs.  He is once more trying to position his behavior as a periodic lapse in judgment instead of the pathological cheating behavior it really was.  Belief in this notion requires another special kind of naivete on the part of the public.

Home Run Creep

Home Run Creep

Maybe the best thing to do, as many people have argued, is to simply let them have their drugs and lure the fans to the park to watch the mutants slug it out.  They will get to live 2 or 3 or 5 years as the kings of their sport and will be showered with adoration and glory before the chemicals begin to cause them to wither and slink from the field as their powers diminish.  But we will have the long ball and the 150 mph fastball and the 5 foot vertical leaps by the shortstops and outfielders and rifle-shot throws from 450 feet in straightaway centerfield to home plate.  Not a game of mortals but probably a contest worth watching.

It’s hard to cynical about a thing as beautiful as the game of baseball. Those of us who love it and play it throughout our lives see it as a board where an infinity of potential exists and we have to be prepared for the moment when destiny calls our name.  The angles of the park and the flight of the ball and the warmth of the air are the architecture of our memories.  We recall diving after line drives in weedy, vacant lots or connecting with a pitch that we barely saw yet sent it for a ride and we remember coming home dirty and tired and thinking what a glorious thing it was to simply play.  There is nothing rational about the love of a sport but if you have found one you think has beauty and you are drawn to it you are offended by anything that does it harm.  You invest the days of your boyhood in rounding up enough pals for a pickup game or you just shag fly balls and race after them with impossible determination and belief in a dreamy outcome.

McGwire does not belong in the hall of fame.  Neither does Bonds.  Nor A Rod.  If Pete Rose can be banned for placing a bet and that sullies the reputation and integrity of the game, what in the hell have the steroid users done to the sport? Those of us who graduated from the sandlot and grew up to become clerks and drivers and attorneys and teachers came to know of the game as a business but we are still saddened when we see mercenary trades that are executed only for profit.  We find this to be little different from a player who cheats for greater profit.  We are not required to like either of those eventualities and we cannot draw distinctions to say how one only wounds and the other kills.  Maybe there is a difference but we don’t see it.  Most of us think Mark McGuire is a home run creep.

There is still not enough honesty in major league baseball.  The steroid issue is treated as though it were a few isolated players over the course of a couple of years.  We can all act like it was anomalous.  Baseball owners, managers, and players continue to lie about the drug culture their greed and ambition spawned.  They don’t deserve our money or our fan support until there is a completely honest reckoning.

Which isn’t likely to happen until we get our first 100 homer season.

1 Comment for this entry:

  • Jack Holt

    Pathetic, the whole thing.
    In 5 or 10 years, when he’s completely washed up, he’ll confess that he used them for more than just injury recovery.
    I read the whole thing as you did, Jim–caught up in the era, as if it wasn’t his fault. We all have lapses of judgement but for crying out loud, if you’re going to confess, do it right!

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