How Baseball Failed America

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(THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN  2007.  FOR THE LATEST ON MARK MCGWIRE’S ADMISSION ON STEROID USE  (1/12/10) PLEASE CLICK HERE:

I will be the first to admit, I don’t know that much about baseball.

I’ve been to a number of games and yes, there’s an excitement in watching the pros do it bigger and badder than anyone else, but I have to tell you, I think this steroid controversy is killing America’s past time.

I’ve called Houston home for the past 18 years. I like it here and I’ve come to adopt it’s professional sports teams. I cheer for the Rockets, the Comets (when I’m in the mood to sit in a crowd of women wearing Aramis), The Texans, The Aeros, The Dynamo and yes, the Astros, too. By virtue of my involvement in Houston media, I’ve known several Astros players. Not biblically but catcher Brad Ausmus came into the station for a live interview once a week…I know Joe Lima and have been social with him and of course, Andy Petite and the legendary Rocket himself, Roger Clemens.

When I found out that both Pettite and Clemens had allegedly “juiced”, well it just pissed me off. My image of them and their accomplishments are now tarnished. I now look at their muscular butts that used to instill in me, more than a few dirty thoughts, as nothing more than pin cushions for steroid filled hypodermic needles.

Why? What happened in baseball? How did this happen? Abner Doubleday is rolling over in his grave. Are we talking about performance enhancing drugs just to stay competitive in the dog eat dog world of Major League Baseball?

What happened to the days when fat, out of shape, endomorphs stuffed themselves into uncomfortable uniforms and let gin and sweat and cattin’ around with dames fuel them to hitting the most homers in a single season????

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Some 30-plus years later, Roger Maris added shyness and sincerity to the mix and he was able to break Babe Ruth’s record.

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*61

See that number? It was fitting that in 1961, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs that season and in doing so, he beat Babe Ruth’s previous record. This was was an accomplishment that remained unequaled for 37 years.

Enter the Mark McGwire years.

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He was big, brawny, cocky and bound and determined to beat Roger Maris’ record.

And on September 8th, 1998, he did just that.

That evening, McGwire hit a pitch by the Chicago Cubs’ Steve Trachsel over the left field wall for his record-breaking 62nd home run, setting off huge celebrations at Busch Stadium. Memorably, the ball was freely given to him in a ceremony on the field by the stadium worker who found it.

A few years later, Mark McGwire’s record was then bested by Barry “I’ve Got A Rap Sheet That Reads Like A Scroll” Bonds, who has also been accused of steroid abuse and was recently indicted for perjury in his Grand Jury testimony about his use of anabolic steroids and their pervasive nature throughout Major League baseball.

Mark McGwire has never been formally charged with steroid use, but come on…we’re not THAT stupid.

I mean, take a look at Mark at the height of his career in 1998.

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I mean, look at those canned hams he had for forearms and thighs!!! And look at the expression on his face? All that anger? Lyle Alzado-esque ‘ROID RAGE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!

Steroids ravage the body. Because of some serious nasal injuries after a nasty car accident several years ago, I was on a steady regimen of Prednisone. That’s a corticosteroid, but a steroid nonetheless. I couldn’t run faster or hit baseballs into the stratosphere, but it changed me metabolically. My face swelled and I felt a little angry, definitely mannish. I had this urge to lift a city bus with one hand, while stuffing haggis in my mouth with the other.

So yeah, these steroids are some serious shit. Think what the anabolic ones must do? Take a look at McGwire’s face in 1998.

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Young…full of life, right. Chomping at the bit to rip a phone book in half or tackle a gazelle loping at full speed and eat it right there on the savanna.

Now, take a gander at the changes in Mark’s face, a mere four years later.

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Unless he’s badly lit and/or coming down off a major Sudafed bender, the cat looks like hell.

And “enhanced” things seem to be a part of McGwire’s persona.

And part of his wife, Stephanie.

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In her case though, I think it’s just a matter of the average person finding it impossible NOT to “stare” at the two mammoth “roids” on her chest.

In the late summer and early fall of 1998 as Mark McGwire was chasing the home run record, there were repeated rumors of his steroid use and if he was ever found guilty of abuse, the question was asked more than once…would, could that negate his record IF he should reach it? We kept hearing about this one substance in particular.

Amdro.

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The fire ant killer? That’s what I kept hearing. I always thought this stuff was deadly poison to humans, but apparently, it was causing them to kick ass on the baseball field.

Yep, Amdro…the fire ant killer.

Fire ants?

Baseball?

Suddenly that ridiculous raised pitcher’s mound made sense.

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The damn thing is a fire ant mound!!!!!!!!!!!

Turns out the stuff we’d all been hearing about was actually called Andro, short for Androstenedione, an anabolic (muscle building) “dietary aid”.

Gee..guess I misunderheard.

Seriously, all jokes aside.

What has happened in baseball is tragic.

Allow me to reiterate that by stating my appreciation for medical technology. It has allowed for tremendous advances. People are living with AIDS where as 25-years ago, they didn’t. Science has made incredible strides in cancer treatment and other maladies that before, were notorious merely by the number of victims they claimed. With that said, I applaud the invention and proper application of steroids. Medically, they’ve made all the difference in the world to many people but steroids’ use in performance enhancement?

Wrong.

If it’s ever officially proven that Mark McGwire was using steroids at the time he broke Roger Maris’ home run record, I think the title should be stripped. The same with Barry Bond’s when he broke McGwire’s record. It isn’t fair and this abuse trivializes the accomplishments of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. That which served as the organic force behind their swings was manufactured in the heat of the game…it was true grit, determination and talent that were the compelling factors; not something manufactured in a lab in the Bay Area.

True, the game was different then. It is another beast today. Therefore, one must ask if it was the nature of fierce competition that compelled these men to seek their first injection? And if the initial reasoning behind shooting the juice was to be bigger, faster and stronger because breaking records ensure record breaking salaries, then what’s wrong with the game of baseball? Has it really come down to all business and no game??? Profiteering amid salary negotiating and merchandise licensing? We’ve know that the business of baseball has been out of control for years, but the recent steroid scandal seems to bring out it’s ugliness in vibrant Technicolor.

Personally, I lay the blame squarely on the freakishly enhanced shoulders of every juiced player. They are responsible for their own actions. They knew they weren’t getting B-12 injections.

But if we take a good long look at this situation, we must also ask this: do they share some of the blame?

Is society at fault? Have we–the baseball fan base–raised the brass ring to dizzying, almost unreachable heights? Have steroids become the only way to garner the strength to grab this proverbial brass ring? We, the fans, have an insatiable need for bigger, faster, meaner, higher.

If so, what does that say to the players? Have we helped make them feel that their best was no longer good enough? Even with minimal contracts to “non marquis players” that are worth a ridiculous 21-million dollars over three years?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then maybe the title of this post is wrong.

Perhaps, I should have called it “How America Failed Baseball”.

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23 comments

  1. I have a really hard time caring about performance enhancing drug use in today’s game. The playing field is pretty even because practically every professional sports jock has done steroids at some point in time. For some it works, for others it does nothing. So if pro players want to stick needles in their asses and take horse hormones, let them. Who are they hurting? The point is the playing field is even if the associations allow it. And spectators could look forward to seeing a lot more hyperextensions and broken legs/arms – like those in your last post. Consider pro cycling for a minute. For years doping has gone on and regulators have been unable to stop riders from finding ways to use EPO. The sport is at an all time low right now – just two years after Lance Armstrong (with one testicle following cancer that ravaged his body) came back and won seven straight Tour de France titles. While “never taking steroid drugs or EPO” he was able to beat the most elite riders in the world who actually WERE taking PEDs to compete and masking it all the way. C’mon. If you believe Lance did this amazing feat cleanly then you were born on the turnip truck. The point is, when the playing field is even the competition gets incredibly good. The Mcgwire/Sosa homerun competition in 1997 restored baseball, to a point. But baseball, continues to stab itself in its left and right eyes with exhorbitant contracts that even the wealthiest most avid fans turn and shake their heads about. The sport has FAR far greater problems from a PR standpoint than players using PEDs. That, the common man can understand and relate to. We all want to be better, stronger, faster to some degree. So I say stop trying to place limits on what players can do to play the games they love. Let them hove meatballs up their asses if they think it helps. Just don’t try to convince me that the general public is dumb to the fact that drugs exist and are used in professional sports. It’s a big DUH!

  2. Chuck,

    I didn’t say the American populace is ignorant to the fact that players are using PEDs. I’m a woman, blissfully ignorant in the ways and means of many pro sports but even I could take one look at the helium inflated looking musculature of Mark McGwire and know immediately that wasn’t the result of sheer will and free weights!!! The majority of baseball fans know this and no one is trying to insinuate that this “roid” news is coming out of left field.

    In fact, the bulk of my dissertation queried why they do athletes juice up in the first place.

    One would have to be incredibly naive to think any records are made or broken in this day and age without enhancers.
    And yes, I’m also referring to St. Lance of Armstrong.

    Frankly, I resent it because I think that removes the humanity, providing there’s any of that left in pro sports. And on the collegiate level, too. I think it’s cheating in the basic sense and you’re right and so I was in my post when I wrote that insatiable fans wanting more and more are part of the problem.

    There has to be limits in place, Chuck. That’s the way it is. We need rules, we need regulations. It would be an even wilder, mroe chaotic and unruly free for all without them.

    To use your vernacular here, for anyone to think otherwise is rather “turnip trucky” and frankly, being of that mindset warrants an even bigger DUH!

  3. I think it’s a little of both, Laurie. The entertainment value of sports has allowed the industry salaries get to the point that no one wants to leave the game, ever. So, the players do whatever they can to remain in the game and keep collecting their outrageous paychecks.

    If you haven’t read Bill Romonowski’s autobiography, it’s a good insight into this attitude of doing whatever it takes to stay in the game.

    We come into it because we feed the frenzy. I know I do. I expect greatness out of the players on my teams; I get frustrated when they don’t perform. How is one to keep meeting the expectations of the fans and their coaches without help when every year someone younger, better and faster comes along looking to take his or her place?

    Great article. I too think the records are tarnished with the knowledge that it was the drugs, not the athletes who reached them.

  4. As a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, I am in conflict right now–I don’t whether to be pleased that so few of my beloved, but underachieving, Phils were on the list–or outraged that my lads didn’t care enough to juice.

    One thing for certain. Blaming the players seems so–holdy accounty–so let’s assume this entire problem is all Bush’s fault because he didn’t sign Kyoto.

  5. I’ve loved baseball since I can remember. I was never great at it but I always played, and then coached as an adult when my kids played. The love of the game is still there for me, but when it comes to the pros I can’t tell you when I last watched a game. My butt has not sat in a big-league stadium seat in more than five years, and I don’t anticipate going back anytime soon.

    Everybody that has ever played the game, even those of us who weren’t destined to play beyond youth leagues, can remember our best plays. I lucked out and slide into home for a winning run once – one measly time in my whole life – when I was 12 years old and I can still remember how it felt, smelled and looked.

    We love to play and watch sports for a lot of the same reasons we love a romanticized version of war. Struggle, bravery, determination, and victory are interesting to us. Whether we are participants or spectators on the sideline, we love the struggle, those moments of truth when everything hangs in the balance and daring can win through and bring victory. There is an intensity of experience in that kind of thing that we don’t easily find in the rest of our lives.

    If you read the book (or saw the movie) Bagger Vance, you may remember a line where Bagger tells Junnah (or however you spell it) that he had to find his “authentic swing”. The authenticity was just another way of saying that Junnah had to look deep inside of himself. Sports, like war, provides us with that authenticity. They are routes to self-discovery through the intensity of the experience.

    Performance enhancing drugs are just another step toward robbing sports of their authenticity, and thus the attraction to fans. As players become less attached to certain teams and more attracted to whoever is making the best offer, we lose attachment to them because we no longer identify with them as playing on our team. They’re just interesting whores.

    Still, even as money-hungry prostitutes with loyalty only to themselves, they are human beings and there is interest in their struggles, successes and failures. Even though we all knew that it didn’t really matter to Roger Clemens what uniform he was wearing when he pitched, just how many dead presidents the owners were giving him, it was an authentic human being inside that uniform and we could be in awe of his skills and abilities. We could share the experience. And when he was playing for our team, that was gravy on top because then we had a connection to the victories.

    But where is the human spirit in the contest when you develop better athletes through better chemistry? What comes after that, bionic eyes, arms and legs? Bioengineering superstar pitchers in the womb?

    Where is the authenticity?

    It’s just another nail in the coffin of professional sports as they loose all connection with what attracts us. The human element – that those are real people like us out there on the field doing battle. Having their limits and mettle tested. Not a bench test of components put together through technical achievement.

    There may be some die hard fans who still see it as entertainment and will enjoy the fantastic plays that the ultra-rich cyber-players are capable of. But not me, if I want to watch cyborgs in action I’ll tune into the Sci-Fi Channel.

    Unless, of course, my teams make it to the Series or the Super Bowl, or the World Cup, etc., etc.

  6. In my profession the “enhancements” of choice are alcohol, red bull, coffee, illegal substances, pain killers, viagra (okay that one has nothing to do with my profession), valium, etc… These people, when they are “outed” are sent to rehab, get arrested, lose their law license, get divorced, etc…–what kills me are the number of sports commentators I heard this weekend that said that the Mitchell Report is really “no big deal.” It is a huge deal–kudos to Andy Pettitte for coming out and saying “yes I did it and it was wrong.”

    There is a generation of young kids whose dream at night is to play professional sports–the competitiveness begins in the neighborhood leagues when they are 2 minutes out of the womb. They are constantly compared to each other and challenged to get better. Their “heroes” of the game are the professionals–if the sports world tells us that it is “no big deal” then what (besides parenting) will stop our kids from thinking–“what the hell, maybe I’ll just enhance since God didn’t give me the raw talent I need to compete.”

    Tragic indeed.

  7. I have to agree with Murphy. If I was doing blow at work to get my job done and my boss found out…it wouldn’t be on SportsCenter…it wouldn’t be on PTI…shit, it wouldn’t even make the local paper, BUT I would be 100% out of a job. I would be fired, probably arrested and put in jail.

    This is just proof that we live in a society full of money hungry, self obsessed, pigs. There would be zero reason to do steriods if we didn’t.

  8. I do really love baseball. But I think it’s a game that has thrived best at times when the defense shines. Everybody loves the long ball, but when it is knocked down, it is a better game to watch. We don’t really think much about the pitchers taking roids, but I guess they do. And Clemens was a Yankee, and I am in the crowd that hates the Yankees but still makes it to every game they play in my town.

  9. While on one hand, I think it is a slap in the face to the sport, it’s also probably a sad sign of the times. While I’d like to think my local heros aren’t shooting juice during they’re good season, I would be naive to fall on my sword for them, if only because for every drug they “discover”, there are probably a dozen more that are still flying under the radar.

  10. Today’s players would be superior to yester-years without steroids or human growth hormone. The science of training is light-years ahead.

    Also, I’ve seen no evidence that PEDs help eye-hand coordination. They do, however, improve strength and speed, which can be the difference between a blooper and a home run.

    I say, let ’em take whatever drugs they want. It’s their bodies. Then, when we see them crying on Bob Costas when they’re 55 and crippled by shattered ankles, knees without cartilage, shrunken testes, and man-boobs, the next generation of players may reconsider.

    Maybe.

    I think we’ll always have the one-step-ahead drug dealers, and the players who want that extra step. There’s too much money involved for it to ever be clean. Hell, remember North Dallas Forty? 😉

  11. hi, it’s been awhile. hope all is well with you all. christmas is a count down now. i’m almost finished. i no longer have to buy toys-my baby is 19 now. i do leave checks on the tree because they no longer appreciate my taste in many things like they did when they were young kids.

    i still don’t have any grandchildren to buy christmas for. however, i am old enough to have them. i prefer my children marry first and babies follow (unlike hollywood standards) and i see nothing in that department either.

    y’all have a very merry christmas and a happy new year!

  12. Hi, LK I hope you feel better soon! We miss you and we are looking forward to you being back on the your blog, soon! Take care….

  13. At several points you could have ended this blog and I would have deemed it “brilliant.” But you didn’t, Laurie, and that’s what I love about you. Adding a picture of Stephanie McGwire’s right breast trying to reach into Mark’s jacket pocket was a masterstroke.
    Thank you for writing this.
    It was the best sports piece I have read all year.

  14. I hate to sound like a baseball apologist, but I don’t see this as a major deal. 1) Steroids had yet to be banned when they became widespread in use. 2) Though some were illegal, many athletes (and others, like Barak Obama) have taken illegal drugs. 3) Many athletes and other performers do whatever it takes to gain an edge.

    Now, was it stupid? You bet. Tragic? Maybe so, in that their long-term health may be shot. Does it taint baseball? I don’t think so.

    P.S. As a Yankee fan, I want to categorically deny that Andy or the Rocket were ever on the juice while in pinstripes. It was that wild Houston living that did them in.

  15. Now Pete–why you have to go and diss H-town like that–and just when I was really starting to like you. 🙂

  16. If rubbing a little illegal cream on your hands or taking a pill would propel you to the top of the writer’s guild enabling you to make millions of dollars a year would you do it?

    I would. So what if I break a few nostalgic records on the way.

  17. i think that your right it did fail america but then again you have to think of all the people who are not dumb asses and are just naturally good at the sport Derek jeter Arod, pujolse and lots more but let them be the people who play it for money and not for the love of the game

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