Take Your Medicine

Fellow baseball fans, I say this with love: grow the fuck up.

If you think the Mitchell Report is the worst thing to ever happen to baseball, that tells me two things about you.

(1) You have not even skimmed the report, because if you had, you’d know that it hardly names any major player we didn’t already know about. Aside from Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite–and if you had two eyes and an ear for gossip, you’d have known about them already, too.

(2) You know nothing about the history of baseball.

In the late 1800s, the National League had pretty much eliminated its competition (the American Association and the rogue Players’ League were dead). And the National League was an absolute mess. Players constantly threw games, got into fights with umpires–I mean, for real fist fights, sometimes with bats–and engaged in off-the-field behavior that would make Pac Man Jones blush. Franchises dropped in and out of the league constantly, because many of them were used as tax dodges or personal piggy banks by unscrupulous owners. The NL came dangerously very close into degenerating into pre-scripted, WWE-type Grand Guignol theatre.

Then the American League came along. It touted itself as the clean, upstanding alternative to rowdy, rough NL baseball. Forced to compete, the NL cleaned up its act, and Major League Baseball as we know it was saved. But once upon a time, baseball was just as corrupt and hollow as pretty much every other major American institution of the Gilded Age.

You want to talk about cheating? The Hall of Fame is jam packed with cheaters. Self-admitted spitballers whose win totals and criminally low ERAs came from a tub of Vaseline. But nobody will raise a stink about them, because they’ve all been dead for 50 years, and there probably a soul alive who remembers them. And when cheating happened a long time ago, it’s okay–just ask a Native American!

How about Gaylord Perry, who to this day openly jokes about doctoring the ball? But he’s just a hilarious emery-board-carrying imp! Why would we ever question his place in the
hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

How about Ty Cobb, who almost definitely gambled on his own games? He went curiously unpunished by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the same strict disciplinarian who bounced the 1919 Black Sox from baseball for life. But I guess once you’ve bowed to popular opinion and banned a bunch of hated gamblers, you don’t need to go nuts on a future of Hall of Famer.

How about all of the game’s founding fathers like Cap Anson, who made damn sure that the great leagues they cfreated would never employ a black man in their lifetimes, or the lifetimes of their successors. You could say that they were just products of their time.
So I guess virulent racism is okay as long as it’s shared by a majority of your peers.

How about the murderously restrictive Reserve Clause? This was the agreement that all players had to adhere to, and it made all players indentured servants, with absolutely no say over their careers. Before Marvin Miller came along, any player who challenged it (like Curt Flood) was lambasted in the owner-friendly sports press and blackballed from organized baseball. If you ever want to know why the MLB Players’ Union is such pricks about anything, remember that the union was a reaction to 70 years of virtual slavery.

How about the unbelievably shady arrangement between the Yankees and Kansas City Athletics in the 1950s and 60s? Because of weird rules of the time, certain kinds of prospects had to be kept at the major league level, and stay there, or else they would become free agents. Few teams could afford to keep untested players in the majors. But a suspicious number of A’s prospects were kept on the KC roster for years as the team languished in the cellar, then traded to the Yankees for peanuts–Roger Maris and Clete Boyer, to name two. If anyone in baseball noticed the ridiculously incestuous relationship among the executives of the two teams, no one said anything.

How about the fact that the whole story behind Cooperstown–Abner Doubleday inventing baseball there–is a complete fucking lie?

I could name dark pages in baseball history all day. My point is, baseball has never been pure. Nothing in life is pure. Get over it.

Only children want dramas with good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. And I’m not sure that even kids want that kind of drama anymore. Earlier today, I saw kids on local ABC News reacting to the Roger Clemens revelation. “Guess it wasn’t all hard work,” one of them said, and they all laughed. They couldn’t have been older than 12 years old. They weren’t laughing because they thought it was a joke. It was more of a “duh” laugh, like Of course people cheat.

Think of that the next time someone tries the Helen Lovejoy Line on you. Kids are much smarter and much savvier about the ways of the world than you give them credit for.

I can’t say there aren’t names on The List that don’t disappoint me. It’s sad to think that Todd “Tank” Pratt’s rise from pizza delivery man to backup catcher was less than genuine. I never would have suspected Paul Lo Duca would have done steroids, and that he’d also be stupid enough to pay for them with a personal check and write thank you notes on Dodger stationery. And I can think of other favorite players who, if they were on The List, would have really upset me.

But disappointment is the price of love. Some objects of your affection meet your expectations, some don’t. Best to concentrate on the former and forget the latter.

Only baseball pretends it’s stainless–and has a fan base that wants to believe it. In football, Shawne Merriman can be suspended for steroid use and still win defensive rookie of the year. No football fan expects its players to be spotless. Outside of Michael Vick-type outrages, they just expect the players to play,

Other than stupid sentimentality, tell me one good reason why baseball can’t be the same way? And I don’t mean by allowing steroid use, or condoning it, or even forgiving it. I mean, let’s not pretend that the game itself has been irreparably damaged every time some rockhead jock decides to ass-stab himself to get a few more inches on his fastball.

Give me a sport with shades of gray, seedy underbellies, and nasty secrets. Do not give me the bullshit nostalgia of columnists for a Grand Pristine Era of Baseball that never existed.

And finally, to Roger Clemens: I always knew you were a douchebag, and I only suspected you were a cheat. Now the whole world knows you’re both. If you’re smart, quit the protestations of innocence. Crawl into a hovel with your millions of dollars and stay the fuck away from baseball.

In short, eat shit and die, and if there is a god, death will bring you a special hell where a pitcher who looks eerily like Mike Piazza aims an unending stream of shattered Louisville Sluggers at your unhelmeted dome.