Too many people just want this all to go away. They’ve been hit by steroid fatigue. They’re tired of seeing their sport torn apart and their heroes torn down and they long for Buck Weaver walking home through a blue collar neighborhood and stopping to play stickball with the kids, telling everybody, “There, there. It’s all going to be OK,” just like in the movies.
I understand. Personally I miss the days of my mother giving me $5 for the movies, playing several games of pinball, then going home with no change and her screaming, “You spent the whole thing!?!” Buck would’ve made it all better.
But this is reality, folks. And for those who prefer to shut their eyes and ears to everything that has happened and continues to happen during baseball’s era of performance enhancing drugs, you’re missing the point of all of this. We need to know.
Major League Baseball suspended 13 more players Monday, this on the heels of the worm Ryan Braun’s recent excommunication. That includes Alex Rodriguez, who ranks fifth on baseball’s all-time home run list (and we’ll get to that piece of fiction momentarily).
Twelve players accepted 50-game bans. Rodriguez was hit with a suspension through the 2014 season, but he is appealing, which should not be confused with innocence. He’s trying to cling to as much of the remaining $96 million on his contract as possible. This is about money, not reputation, because even Rodriguez must realize that’s a lost cause.
Baseball has been damaged from performance enhancing drugs more than any other sport. For decades, the sport’s numbers romanced us like a wonderful history book. Now the numbers look like cartoons.
Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) shattered Roger Maris’s 37-year-old, single-season home run record of 61. In the same season.
Three years later, Barry Bonds hit 73 homers — 24 more than he hit the year before — at the age of 37.
On the subject of cartoons, I found it more believable when Elmer Fudd took his rifle and blasted Daffy Duck and his beak spun around his head three times. Now that I could really believe.
We need total exposure. We need to know everything that happened from the moment some chemist or athletic trainer or Ewok or baseball player thought, “Hey, this might really help. Is it cheating? Ah, whatever.”
This isn’t about vengeance. It’s about honoring athletes who did things right, who are doing things right. It’s about shining the light of so many players in the steroid era who remain outside of the Hall of Fame’s gates, in part because their numbers don’t measure up to those that have been artificially enhanced.
It’s about exorcising those creatures from the sport who don’t belong and never belong. It’s about learning what moments mattered and which ones we should drop kick into a dumpster.
Cheaters haven’t been limited to home run hitters. But those are the records most striking of all. Six of baseball’s top 14 career home run hitters are proven or admitted juicers, or they’re forever stuck in public denial mode: Bonds (1), Rodriguez (5), Sosa (8), McGwire (10), Rafael Palmeiro (20) and Manny Ramirez (14).
We can’t truly move forward until understanding the extent of the problems. Hank Aaron said as much four years ago when we spoke in 2009, saying that no player who used performance enhancing drugs should be considered for the Hall of Fame. “My feeling has always been the same — the game of baseball has no place for cheaters,” he said. “There’s no place in the Hall of Fame for people who cheat.”
Aaron also referenced a list of 104 players (which included Rodriguez) who reportedly had tested positive for illegal substances in 2003. The list was obtained by the federal government in its investigation into BALCO. Aaron believed all of the players on the list should be identified, not just the names that had leaked out.
“If there’s another 102 players on the list, that would be my position — bring it all to light now and get it over with,” he said. “If there are a hundred and some names on the list, let’s just get them out and get this over with so we can get on with the game. … We need to bring closure to this.”
Which is just the point.
Commissioner Bud Selig, to some degree, is as culpable for baseball’s drug culture as any other official who preferred to focus on revenue totals. But at least he is trying to do the right thing now.
“Despite the challenges this situation has created during a great season on the field, we pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” Selig said in a statement.
History will not view the cheaters kindly. To ignore their acts would be a slap to those who’ve done things right.