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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

When What You Lose is Too Much

This morning, while driving to work, I listened, as has been my custom, to "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio. One of the topics of conversation was Barry Bonds, about whom I wrote this ballad (which, come to think of it, Liam and Joaquin should adapt to music for the Mike & Mike show).

The talk was about Bonds, his withdrawal from Team USA the baseball World Cup (or whatever the heck they're calling the upcoming 16-nation series), and whether Bonds withdrew because of his concern for his knees or other reasons (read: Mike and Mike were surmising that the drug testing for these events is stricter than what they do in Major League Baseball).

Bonds, right now, is of little moment to me, if only because of a comment that Mike Greenberg, to my great surprise, made. He was going on about steroids in baseball, how the players who allegedly used them all will probably make the Hall of Fame (although he wasn't so sure about Rafael Palmeiro) and that they still have all their money (which, for guys like Bonds, Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire is a boatload of it) and batting records (which, unless taken away, could propel them into the Hall of Fame).

Then he went on to say this: "So all that they lost is their reputation." Now, he might have said that for effect, as if to prompt the listener into thinking, "That's all? That's everything," as if to demonstrate that this is not the way he (Greenberg) was thinking, but that's how those ballplayers do. I hope he did, because he's too well educated and bright to think otherwise. Because it's hard to imagine what could be worse to lose than the ability to walk tall, look people in the eye and be a stand-up guy. That's all? That is everything.

The emergence of the Chicago White Sox this season brought back into the spotlight the 1919 White Sox, called the "Black Sox" because several of them conspired to drop the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Mention the names Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver, and you think of a sad, sad story. They could have had all the money in the world, but it wouldn't have been enough to buy back their good names. They and the Black Sox are forever linked.

So, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro have their money and their batting records. Those facts in and of themselves hardly make those men more appealing. We'll know more when the Hall of Fame voting is revealed next year and whether Mark McGwire gains election into the Hall of Fame, won't we? Will the writers, who consider themselves, among other things, the guardians of the game, guard it the way they would their livelihoods (which some should have jeopardized by failing to report on the entire story anyway), or will they overlook major transgressions and stick to the numbers and anoint McGwire to the same pantheon that hosts the careers of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan and many others?

Because if they do that, then McGwire and the others who at best are under a cloud and who at worst cheated will not even have lost their reputations. Instead, the writers will be sending a message, like the jury that acquitted the Black Sox in the civil case after the 1919 World Series, that the superstars do not have to be accountable.

And that would be a shame.

If McGwire gets in, then his reputation will be doing just fine, thank you very much.

But Major League Baseball's will have suffered greatly.

And what kind of message is that to send to the fans and to the kids out there?

That it's okay to cheat? That it's okay not to be forthcoming about your transgressions?

These guys have shown little in the way of contrition and have hardly asked for forgiveness.

And you'd put them in the Hall, no questions asked?

You'd put McGwire in alongside Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn? Aren't you cheapening their accomplishments? Their reputations? Don't those two guys deserve a much better day than the madhouse that will be likely to ensue if Mark McGwire is put into the Hall of Fame?

You bet they do.

The writers have to do something that as a group they heretofore have been unable to do.

Take a stand.

Take a stand for integrity, honesty, compliance with rules, responsibility. Honor the game you love so much and feel tickled that you get to write about it for a living.

Protect the game. Keep them out.

After all, the national pastime is baseball.

And not the circus.


Anonymous Rob Howell said...

Which is worse?

Doing something within the rules of the game but which is societally questionable that later on gets banned from baseball.


Doing something specifically against the rules, something that had been removed from baseball already that put other players in greater danger?

I contend Option B is worse.

Option B: Gaylord Perry

10:38 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, Rob.

First, I don't think that what was done was societally questionable. It sounded like it was illegal.

Second, why do we have to make a choice? I don't think either forms of behavior are acceptable.

1:23 PM  

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