On the very same day the mailman brought my first ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, listing 25 candidates. . .
On the very same day Alex Rodriguez signed a $275 million contract to play for the New York Yankees. . .
What may be the worst scandal in the history of the sport explodes.
The Mitchell Report officially proclaims the Steroid Era, a decadelong trail of treachery and double-dealing by so-called “heroes” of the game.
To stay on top, to add to their statistics and above all to make more money, superstars of baseball allegedly sold their souls for the magic in a vial of goop.
“Why did they do it? What were the pressures of the baseball world, of America . . . that would turn decent, normal, talented men to engage in such betrayal?”
Sounds up to the minute in light of this week’s bombshell. But those words were written 44 years ago about a scandal that happened 88 years ago.
Eliot Asinof was the author, and his masterpiece was “Eight Men Out,” a detailed account of the sellout of the 1919 World Series, up to now the saddest day in the history of our national pastime.
“Pride and vanity led to his doom,” another author, Johann von Goethe, wrote in his 19th-century magnum opus, “Faust.”
So far, 86 – eighty-six! – players have been fingered in the steroid scandal, 33 of them active. More reputations and careers will doubtless float down this sewer before the smell dies out.
In “Faust,” Mephistopheles, the devil, asks Faust: “Poor son of Earth, how couldst thou thus alone have led thy life bereft of me? I, for a time at least, have worked thy cure. . . .”
How could, and why would, a modern baseball player, with the physical gifts to make it to the Hall of Fame on his own, inject himself with a drug known to be dangerous, to give himself more strength?
To answer that question with another: Do we need any more proof that they’re paying these clowns too much money to perform?
A good friend of mine in the medical profession told me not long ago, “Before long we’ll have to take drugs ourselves to watch these idiots play.”
The players aren’t the only ones to blame, as Sen. George Mitchell, who headed the steroid investigation, said in his report. Baseball is a billion-dollar industry of plutocrat owners and lavishly rich ballplayers. Turning a blind eye to the problem of juicing up was easy.
Not only that: Baseball was late in banning drugs in part because of the Players Association, the most aggressive and successful labor union in the history of mankind. In out-thinking and outflanking ownership on every issue ever raised in working agreements, and in its protecting player privacy at all costs, the union aided and abetted the drug culture.
The game is afloat in performance-enhancing drugs.
Coincidentally, the International Olympic Committee has just stripped the world’s biggest track and field star, Marion Jones, of her five Olympic medals – taking her name off the record books – after she confessed to being a drug cheat.
But she had the courage to step forward and admit it. Baseball stars were outed by clubhouse employees and training staff who, under pressure to talk or face serious penalty, spilled the beans.
Those who care about the game can’t allow sadness and sentimentality to interfere with what has to be done.
Commissioner Bud Selig, whose overwhelming incompetence in dealing with the union’s slick bossman, Donald Fehr, has diminished the sport, must take action. He has promised to do exactly that, but this time he must act for the good of the game – not for the good of the union or for players’ agents.
“Every American, not just baseball fans, ought to be shocked into action,” Mitchell said. His report showed us in painful detail how player after player injected himself (or was injected) with steroids or human growth hormone, bought illegal substances, signed bank checks and accepted shipping receipts.
All for an edge. Grow bigger and disport with the gods of the game (not to mention pink elephants).
Bulked up, they smashed the most cherished records of a sport that above all others cherishes records. Now they must pay the devil his due.
Union or no union, players who used a syringe to accumulate Hall of Fame numbers should be kept out of Cooperstown. Let them have their own shrine, preferably in some sleazy backyard laboratory.
The commissioner, the owners and all who care about the game must do everything in their power to clean up Major League Baseball or watch it become just another cheap sideshow unworthy of decent followers.
Corky Simpson writes a column every Saturday for the Citizen.
WHO WILL GET IN?
The 25 players on the 2008 Hall of Fame ballot (bold – mentioned in Mitchell Report; * – first-time candidate):
*Brady Anderson, Harold Baines, *Rod Beck, Bert Blyleven, Dave Concepción, Andre Dawson
*Shawon Dunston, *Chuck Finley, *Travis Fryman, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Tommy John, *David Justice
*Chuck Knoblauch, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, *Robb Nen
Dave Parker, *Tim Raines, Jim Rice, José Rijo, Lee Smith, *Todd Stottlemyre, Alan Trammell