Michael More, Roger, and Me

piazza_si.jpgA recently leaked excerpt from Jeff Pearlman’s upcoming book on Roger Clemens (The Rocket Who Fell to Earth, which sounds less like a sports tome and more like a David Bowie album) alleges that Mike Piazza used performance enhancing drugs. And by alleges, I mean Pearlman says Piazza totally did them.

Although–unless there’s more in the book than the excerpt contains–the accusations come mostly from unnamed sources, all of whom say some variation of “Yeah, we’re pretty sure he did it,” without any specifics. Same goes for the one former player who went on the record: Reggie Jefferson, who’s most famous for having a hissy fit and quitting baseball for good when the Red Sox left him of their playoff roster in 1999.

And if you want an idea of how much of a douche Jefferson is, consider the first line of the article linked above: “This is not how Reggie Jefferson expected to begin the playoffs, taking care of his newborn infant daughter in Tampa.” ‘I coulda been playing against the Indians right now, but NOOOO! I just had to come home and take care of this stupid baby!’

However, according to Pearlman, Piazza confided that he used PEDs on occasion to reporters off the record. Pearlman’s theory is that Piazza did this to make it an open secret and thus cut off further questioning on the subject.

Bottom line: You can’t imply something like this in a book and not be damn sure you won’t get sued over it. And the best way to ensure you won’t get sued is to print the truth. So I felt it only fair to address this subject, since I’ve hammered Roger Clemens at every opportunity. And hammered. And hammered.

Part of me wants to split hairs and say that it’s unclear when Piazza used PEDs and for how long, whereas Clemens’ use is pretty well documented: the post-Boston tail-end of his career, when it looked like his career might be over.

I’m tempted to say that you could jam needles in your ass til the cows came home and it still wouldn’t enable you to differentiate a fastball from a changeup in a split second, while Clemens used PEDs to pitch effectively way beyond retirement age.

But who’s to say that PEDs didn’t help Piazza recover more quickly from the various dings and cuts associated with catching? And how do I know it didn’t help him bat better (as opposed to slug better, which I’m sure it did)?

So am I now forced to admit that Mike Piazza is really no better than Roger Clemens? No, I am not.

First off, the use of PEDs doesn’t upset me. As far as levels of cheating go, I put it below spitballers and bat corking. To me, it’s more like the widespread use of amphetamines in baseball, which goes all the way back to the 1950s. They’re both artificial chemical means to improve one’s performance.

Plus, MLB’s anti-drug policy was such a joke for so long that it practically dared players to do steroids. It was like putting a sack of money out on the street, with a sign that said PLEASE DON’T STEAL.

Granted, I like baseball better now that it welcomes Good Pitching again. Now that batters no longer look like overstuffed sausages stitched together. Now that we have fewer of the Mark McGwire style players–guys who can hit titanic homers and do absolutely nothing else. Now that players no longer shorten their lives to hit a few more dingers.

But I’ve never gotten fist-shakin’ angry over the whole steroids thing. Because first of all, baseball ain’t the only offender on the PED front. How many linebackers you think aren’t juicing? Football fans don’t give a shit, though, because no one cares about numbers in football. No one cares about the players in football. Fans just wanna see Football:The Sport presented to them every Sunday in the fall, by any means necessary. Sometimes I wish baseball fans could look at their sport the same way.

And if you know anything about the history of baseball, you know that steroid use is way low on its list of crimes. For 15-20 years, tons of guys did steroids. And yet the game endures.

What tons of guys didn’t do is try to end other players’ careers by throwing at their heads, because they couldn’t get them out any other way. Or start some weird drama by hurling a shattered bat during a World Series game–and somehow not get kicked out of that game because they’re too big to get kicked out of such a huge game. Or get all their reporter buddies to write glowing articles about how they owe all their success to an intense workout regimen. Or protest their innocence when all the evidence pointed elsewhere. Or cajole Congress into giving them hearings to prove their innocence because they’re tight with the sitting President’s family.

Nope, last I checked, there was only one very special breed of asshole who did that.

There are several levels of Sports Hate. Lowest are the guys you really don’t hate, you just hate the fact that they always beat Your Team, and your hatred is actually a sign of respect (for me, this would be John Smoltz).

Then there are guys who you hate because they always beat Your Team, and who you can’t prove are douchebags, but you just know they’re douchebags (Greg Maddux, Derek Jeter).

Then there are guys who you hate because they always beat Your Team and you know they’re douchebags because they’ve provided ample evidence (Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds).

And then there are enormous douches whose douchiness breaks the lowly bonds of douchery and passes into supervillainy. Roger Clemens resides in this pantheon, and I have no problem singling him out for an extra fiery, hellish hate that rages like a thousand suns.

If I have to readjust my thinking on anything, it’s my attitude toward fans of players on other teams who juiced. We all know the obvious offenders, and I’ve wondered to myself, “How could those morons root for [fill in the blank]?”

I now realize I was one of those morons. I mean, I always knew I was. I just never had to confront that reality head-on like other fans did.

As usual, Faith and Fear in Flushing said it much better than I could. Ultimately, what did any of these players really do, other than hit baseballs really far and make people happy? And how many of them jacked those homers off of players who were just as “dirty” as them?

So if you cheered for Bonds or Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire or Brady Anderson or Ken Caminiti, I won’t judge you for that.

In turn, don’t judge me for rooting for someone who almost single-handedly willed the Mets back from the dead in 1999. Someone who put the capper on a 10-run rally on our Most Hated Rival. Someone who hit the most titanic homers I ever saw, and the most important one I ever saw.

So, we got a deal?