Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baseball, steroids and cantaloupe-sized heads

By Ken Hart
As longtime friends know, I love baseball. It's far and away my favorite sport and, aside from the noble art of fencing, the only sport I've ever really played. (OK, that was T-ball when I was 8 years old, and my defense was so bad that I was made the team's catcher and you have to know that your defense truly sucks when they make you the catcher in a league where no one pitches. But I digress.)

The long-awaited Mitchell Report
came out two days ago, detailing George Mitchell's investigation into steroid and HGH abuse in baseball and offering recommendations on how to clean up the sport. But that's not what folks are focusing on right now. It's all about the 85 names of professional players, active and retired, who are accused of taking these illegal substances.
Contrary to rumors earlier in the day, it didn't shatter the industry; that is, there were only a few top-level names in the report, and most of them had already been under suspicion. No Albert Pujols, no A-Rod, no Vladimir Guerrero. But there was one really big name in there, truly the pitching counterpart to mutant slugger Barry Bonds, and that was Roger Clemens.
First off, I really don't like Clemens. He's an arrogant, opportunistic, self-obsessed blowhard (which probably describes half of professional athletes). That said, he's also one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. When steroids first crept into the public consciousness years ago, Clemens was one of those guys I put in the "Nah, not him" category. His "fitness regimen" and devotion to training were near-legendary in baseball circles. But when the news first broke about his inclusion in the Mitchell Report, I was surprised that I wasn't surprised. On some level, I guess I had suspected the truth for years. Baseball players simply don't get better as they reach and surpass the age of 40, and that's doubly true for pitchers.
The documentation about Clemens in the report is pretty damning. After the Red Sox let him walk away after the 1996 season (remember former GM Dan Duquette's infamous quote about Clemens being in "the twilight of his career"?), Clemens sought out trainer Brian McNamee, who has now admitted to having personally injected Clemens with steroids a number of times. Clemens won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 1997 and '98, at least the second of which was under McNamee's care. Without McNamee in '99 with the Yankees, Clemens' numbers went south. Once he convinced the Yankees to hire McNamee as his own trainer in 2000, Clemens' pitching power returned -- surprise! -- and he (along with other steroid-boosted players like choir boy Andy Pettitte) guided the Yankees to their third World Series victory in a row.
Now the honesty of the "Yankee Dynasty" of the late 1990s has to come into question, and Clemens and Pettitte have to be considered cheaters just as much as Barry Bonds.
A good question that many people have raised: Did George Mitchell have to list the names? To me, no doubt about it: Yes, he had to. As Mitchell indicated (and as we all know), this problem is deep, going far beyond the players mentioned in the report. The one fact that apologists for these players seem to forget is that they are, by definition, cheaters. That is, they have resorted to illegal, unethical means to gain a competitive edge over other players. And oh yeah, they're risking long-term damage to their health and making their heads look like cantaloupes in the process. They've sent a terrible signal to kids seeking to enter sports at any level.

You know what's also terrible? Clemens, like Bonds, was a guaranteed Hall of Famer before he started cheating. His accomplishments during his years in Boston were stunning -- and all natural. And now he might not get into the Hall at all. As much as I dislike him, that's tragic. So why cheat? Was he really so absorbed with himself and his image that he couldn't bear the thought of, gasp!, getting weaker in his forties? (To which I say, "Suck it up, Bozo!") Then again, this is a man so self-obsessed that he named his sons after the "K" for strikeouts: Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody.
Krazy. And now Kondemned.



Scott Cavanagh said...

Roger Clemens, in my opinion, is, and has been, the most obvious steroid abuser in baseball. When he was discarded by the Red Sox, he magically regained his fastball and became a great pitcher with this suddenly beefed-up body. In Toronto, his neck size must have grown by double. So what did the writers and TV guys say? What a great workout guy he is!! Kids should study his training regimen!! Not a word about how pitchers never regain velocity in their 40's or anything about the ‘roid rage incidents like throwing the broken bat at Piazza or suddenly gunning for everyone's head. He's also been pulling this ‘roid crap every Spring for the past three or four years -- missing out on all the spring training and early season drug tests before deciding to sign with a team as the cycle was just right. It's an unbelievable double standard -- Bonds being torn to pieces over the past couple of years, while this guy skates around pushing his win totals way past guys like Seaver, and making a claim as the greatest pitcher of all-time -- a title he would have absolutely no claim to if it were not for these ridiculous overblown bull^*&t years he's had since Toronto.
It was the same thing with McGwire. Did anyone actually think that guy was not juicing during the run with Sosa? Now yesterday, I'm listening to Karl Ravech with Gammons and the ESPN crew and he says -- and these jokers agree -- that when they were covering the home run derby and the Sosa-McGwire chase in 1998 steroids didn't even cross their minds - nobody was talking about it. What a bunch of garbage!! People were yelling steroid chants at Canseco in '88! As soon as McGwire went from an always-hurt, .201-hitting bum to Paul Bunyan, my first reaction was that he was on ‘roids. Hell, he was Canseco's butt-brother for God Sakes.
The washed-up white pitcher suddenly becomes better than when he was in his 20's, while the big clod white slugger becomes Babe Ruth in his 30's and nobody notices or says anything, but when the unquestionably great black outfielder ups his game, he must be cheating and the travesty has to be resolved. Race plays a big part in all of this.
-----Original Message-----

John in Columbus said...

I do think that race plays no part whatsoever. The difference isn't skin color, it's that Bonds got caught in the Balco sting. If that had been McGwire's dealer, then he'd have been the one. Bad luck on his part...but it couldn't have happened to a more deserving asswhipe.

What is your evidence that people are going after Bonds because he's black? When McGwire broke the home run record, there were whispers, but the press ultimately gave him a pass. When Bonds broke his record, the press gave him a pass too, maybe more so, because I don't remember steroids even being discussed that year in the press. Whispers, of course, but no open speculation in the press.

Later, when Bonds was tied to Balco, he got lambasted, but rightfully so. To this day no one knows where McGwire got his steroids (except maybe in the early days, I guess he got them from Canseco). If some trainer or supplier came forward and gave details about how he did it and who was involved, it would no doubt be a big sensation, along the lines of Bonds (maybe minus the federal indictment and the accusations of tax fraud).

As far as Clemens goes, I don't think you'll find many Clemens fans in our little group, and we all knew he was a prime suspect for steroid use. But this is the first time actual accusations have come up. And it's been 2 days...give it a while for the public to digest and learn more.

There's no doubt that Bonds hasn't helped himself, with his cocky denials in the face of overwhelming evidence. But it has nothing to do with his race.

Tom May said...

I have to agree with Scott that race does play some still hovers in our society, but is getting least I hope. I don't want my little girl to be held back by her race.
I do think, though, that in Bonds' case, his personality plays a larger role, along with the fact that in his case, it wasn't just a player, but a player who has now CRUSHED the two most sacred records in basbeall...the single-year, and career, Home Run records. If his cheating had simply got him on a few all-star teams, or even won him a couple MVP awards, it'd still be resented, but not as much. Those two records, though, have been recognized by many sportswriters and broadcasters as the two most highly regarded records in ANY SPORT. And now Bonds holds cheating!!!