A Yankee fan’s take on A-Rod, steroids, and everyone’s complicity.
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As you pack your bags, knowing that you have to have a great season if you’re going to have any negotiating leverage, you can’t help notice that an awful lot of players who were in that same, better than average, solid ballplayer category that has made you valuable, were having better years as they got older. You heard the whispers. You saw the bulging muscles and “bacne” in the clubhouse. It wasn’t for you to judge. It just wasn’t your thing. But damn! Those guys were signing huge contracts, guaranteeing there spot in the lineup and their financial future.
And you have a wife and three kids. You’ve been playing baseball since you were 3. You’ve been dreaming about being a big leaguer since you put on your first little league uniform. You spent hour after hour shagging fly balls and hitting in the cage when your friends were watching cartoons and eating chips. In high school, Friday night was go out and chase girls night for your buddies. For you, it was hitting clinic night.
Your pals went off to college. You got the minor league contract. While they were cramming for finals in between frat parties, you were living the first stages of fulfilling your dream. You were playing in Altoona for the Pirates Double A farm team hoping to move up to AAA with the Indianapolis Indians before the end of the season.
When they were heading to law school, you finally got the call up to the big time. You met a girl in Altoona. She was the one. You got married and she put up with the time apart. You love her for that. You love her so much that while some of the older guys were off drinking and cheating on their wives, you spent hours alone in the motel room just talking to her. You were a team. She was pregnant with your first child. One day, you’d make it to the show and all of the separation and sacrifices would be worth it.
As you put your glove (yes, you don’t let anyone else carry your glove) in the carry-on bag, you think, “If I don’t have a great year, I won’t have any leverage. In fact, I may get cut. After all, the GM was quoted in the papers talking about the great prospects down on the farm that would be a lot less expensive. Heck, I might not get picked up at all. I have a wife and 3 kids and I’ve been busting my tail since I was 10 years old. I couldn’t get a job outside of baseball that didn’t involve flipping burgers.”
You get to Florida and immediately notice the change in one of your teammates who is also in a contract year. He seems to have put on 40 pounds of muscle in the off-season. You can barely believe how fast the ball is leaving the park as he just crushes every pitch. The sound of the ball on the bat sounds like a bomb exploding.
Later in the clubhouse, you walk over to his locker and tell him that you were in awe watching his BP session. You tell him he looks great. You ask him what kind of work-out program he was on over the winter. He just smiles at you and scribbles a name and a number on a piece of scrap paper. “You’ve got a wife and 3 kids and you’re in a contract year,” he says as he hands you the number. All you think of is your family and their long-term financial security.
Or imagine you’re in Triple A. You’ve been there for 3 years. You’re 22. You were the big team’s top draft pick out of high school. They had big plans for you. You were the shortstop of their future. You flew through A ball and Double AA. But you seem to have hit a wall in AAA. You’re good. You have a great glove, a .320 batting average and a high on base percentage. But you’re not hitting for power the way major leaguers hit for power. You’re 6’ even and 180 lbs. The third base coach walks over to your locker after a practice one day and says, “Look kid, you need to put on some weight and start tagging the ball otherwise you’re never getting out of here.” In your mind you know what he is really saying is, “Omar Vizquel was the last of the speedy little, slap-hitting shortstops. Get it?”
And you think about how much money you’ve been spending on protein shakes and how many hours you put in the weight room and you realize that you just haven’t filled out yet. And you realize you can’t wait or the team is going to drop you as another failed experiment. So you ask the coach if he knows any good supplement suppliers, “you know… vitamins and protein.” And the coach hands you a name and a number that he scribbled on a piece of paper.
Or imagine you’re a rookie. You just arrived with the big club. And looking around the locker room, you can’t help but notice that 80% of the veterans are looking like something out of a superhero comic book. You heard the whispers when you were down on the farm. It was almost a joke. But now it’s just there in front of you. As you look at some of your new teammates, still pinching yourself to make sure it’s not a dream, you think, “If those three guys who are legitimate all-stars without the juice are juicing, then what the hell am I supposed to do?”
Suddenly, it’s not so cut and dried. Suddenly, the “cheaters” have a face, a real life and real responsibilities. They’re not all Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, but we the fans demanded that they try to be. That doesn’t excuse them one bit, but it does make us complicit.
Then there is the profit side of the steroid era. Enormous profits. The owners knew exactly what was going on. They loved the sound of home runs flying out of the ballparks — it was the sound of cash coming into the ballparks. They loved the way the women were coming to the ballparks to see the players and gawk at the biceps bulging through the jerseys. Home runs baby. Money. Money. Money. Sky boxes. Luxury suites. Merchandise. TV revenue. Sign Giambi. Sign Tejada. Sign Roger.
Perhaps the most disgraceful actors in this saga were the Baseball Players Union officials. They had medical proof that their eyes weren’t lying to them. But big contracts were good for the union coffers. It gave Don Fehr and Gene Orza the power and cachet that no other union reps had with their industries. It made them wealthy. So what if the players, whose lives you are supposed to be protecting, are headed for a future of liver and kidney disease? So what if the records are a fraud and you know that at some point it is all going to come crashing down? Who cares about the millions of kids who will be devastated when they find out that their heroes were injecting themselves in the fannies with steroids? That’s the price and they’re all adults.
Let’s not leave out the sanctimonious sports writers. Right now, they’re a bit much. They point the finger and write their columns and hound the players who get caught by the feds or have their names leaked. But they have access to the clubhouses. They’ve all sat in front of some slugger’s locker as he sat in a nothing but a towel. Don’t tell me that Mike Lupica didn’t realize that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were steroid frauds while he was writing the book, Summer of ‘98, that glorified the home-run record chase. Heck, Lupica even pimped the emotional story of his young sons’ obsession with the home run race. Now Lupica is telling A-Rod to come clean and tell the truth. Message to Lupica and all of the holier than thou writers who are tsk-tsking away on their laptops: Save us the sanctimony. You knew, or you are the dumbest bunch of journalists in the business. And since you knew, you’re complicit too.
And how about the fans? We still went to the parks. We bought the caps and the jerseys. We joked about the ‘roid boys and expressed disgust with Barry Bonds. But we kept going, kept watching, kept cheering. Even me.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?