Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Baseball Is Not Too Big to Fail

Spring is in the air, as is the repulsive scent of performance-enhancing drugs–temporarily in disuse but awaiting the go-ahead to resume juicing.

We used to think baseball was the cleanest of sports–certainly the easiest for fans to monitor: players are yards apart except for brief intervals– compared to basketball where players are always at push-and-shove range and we wouldn’t know most fouls were it not for the refs. Football is a blur of flying bodies and even replays on 46-inch home tv leave us wondering exactly who-done-what on any given down.

Oh, baseball’s had its moments, beginning with the Black Sox, but memories are short, not to mention dulled by beer, and we forgive easily if the the game will just resume so we can forget our lives of quiet desperation.

Two things regarding players are hard to see with the naked eye: 1) bribes and betting–and 2) juicing, which affords a leg up on other players. But you could be blind in one eye and unable to see out of the other and still know when A-Rod went from his already Adonis-like body to that of the half-man, half-horse of myth and fable. I waited for announcers to mention he had become twice his size, and to joke that maybe he was putting in extra hours at the Yankee’s gym, but they have jobs to hang onto, so we need not look for truth, let alone courage, from announcers’ booths .

Thus A-Rod continued to cut a fine figure at the plate for his adoring crowds, as did Jason Giambi and of course Andy Pettitte on the mound–till fate caught up with them. But after a brief gasp from the public and near heart-attacks from the lords of major league ball, all continued their merry way, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez and others in tow. The lesson was not: stop the cheating in baseball! but “I’ll hold up the rug and you sweep this crap under it.”

At this point I pause to honor all those dads who hate this kind of talk, insisting that we must turn our heads and shut up because our precious kids must not lose their faith in this grand old game that is so wonderful to see. From whence cometh this brand of ethics, I have no idea, but will say that when we teach kids to ignore truth for the sake of appearances, we’re doing them no favors whatever. Tell them rather of Bart Giamatti, the late baseball comish, whose name should be over the gate to every major league stadium because he blew the whistle on the most sacred of cows, Pete Rose, and stood up to a storm of criticism that I am convinced is what killed Giamatti.

And while I’m knocking our selective memories, I remind us of Bart’s gutsy predecessor, Pete Ueberroth, who in the mid-1980s invoked a series of sanctions against players involved with “cocaine and other drugs” in response to trial testimony of six players regarding a Phillies caterer who sold coke to payers.

Ueberroth was convinced that drug abuse by players was a “serious threat to baseball’s standing with the American people,” and vowed to “eliminate drugs from baseball (and) be relentless until that is done.” Players Joaquin Andujar (A’s), Dale Berra (Yanks), Keith Hernandez (Mets), Jeff Leonard (Giants), Dave Parker (Reds) and Lonnie Smith (Royals) were cited as having “a prolonged pattern of drug use and…in some cases facilitated distribution.”

Ueberroth offered to withhold their suspension for the ‘86 season–IF the players agreed to donate 10% of their salaries to antidrug programs, take part in 100 hours of antidrug community programs for two years, and submit to random tests through the balance of their careers. All Hernandez idolizers out there: please recall that he got the largest fine–$135,000 on a salary of $1.35 million. After first threatening not to comply he quickly and wisely relented.

Such leadership is the kind that can save baseball–if allowed to, but here’s the kicker: Ueberroth also ordered random testing for all employees of baseball, including management (and for minor league players) but was blocked by the players’ union and its exec director Don Fehr (may his name live in infamy). Thankfully, such was not the consensus among all players, a number of whom voluntarily submitted to tests–the Orioles doing so as a team.

Whoever thinks baseball is too big to fail is living in a dream world, but the current bosses of the game, via delay tactics and reliance on the unethical tolerance of American fans, are striving mightily to let all big fish off the hook.

If they succeed, not only will we witness the death of a great American game, but its demise will be a slow and agonizing one.

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