dimanche, mars 20, 2005

An Unlikely Hero, an Unlikely Goat

So, I fancy myself a bit of a baseball fan. For example, I’m thrilled to see the boys of summer return. I’m as excited about the home opener as I am about the Masters and about the NCAA tournament. I kinda like baseball to be blunt about it.

Want my advice on the whole thing? Run to Vegas and put a honeybee (at least a honeybee) on the Twins to do it all. I have a feeling about that group. Yes, the Dodgers and Mets spent like the Yankees (and the Yankees spent like the Yankees on a World Series drought), but I think a spirited group from the Twin Cities will claim the crown.

But back to steroids. Jose Canseco is one of those guys for whom I have never really held much regard. He was a fair hitter in his day, and you could count on him to get his share of round trippers. But he always seemed to be short (many miles away actually) of what he could have done if he were dedicated and unjuiced. The whole Madonna thing, the sports car thing, the gun thing and the coming out of retirement thing, all combine with every fly ball that hit him on his steroid enlarged noggin to make him more of a joke than anything else.

I hate his book. I hate the idea of his book. I hate what his book does. I hate what it advocates. I hate how it treats former teammates. I hate that it sells. His book is horrible. Like all things in this world that are despicable: drugs, prostitution, cigarettes, pornography, new country (to name a few), the badness of the book is devastating. You hate that it exists. You hate that people buy it. You hate that people buy it in huge quantities. You hate what the purchases say about the people. You hate what the purchase say about people in general. You hate what the purchases (when it is you doing the purchasing) say about you.

But, having said all that, I kinda like what he did the other day at that congressional hearing. He essentially said – “yeah, I’m a shooter. I think steroids, properly used can be good, but I also think they have no place in baseball.” Not too shabby. He might actually get baseball to get serious about steroids. I almost respect what he did.


Then I remember...of all the guys under oath, he had the least to lose. He already told all (an maybe a lie or two in the bargain); he’s not a hall-of-famer; his career is over; the public at large thinks he a schmuck, and none of his buddies from his diamond days are going to seek him out for good times. After all, how can you share friendship or intimacy with a rat fink?

And now a word for our (former) hero Mark McGwire…

(and can we pause here to note four things: first, congressmen (probably because they are, first and foremost politicians) are fiendishly clever (whoa and woe unto anyone called before a subcommittee - and particular caution to those who don’t want to plead the fifth – you’re in for a long da). Second, McGwire need not say that he used steroids. McGwire saying he used steroids would be the equivalent of Michael Jackson holding a press conference to announce that he’s a pathetic freak. Third, the best exchange of the hearings started with McGwire answering "...we're not here to talk about the past," to which a Congressman replied "well, I don't think we let the guys from Enron get away with that answer." Fourth, if you parse Sammy’s statement, it’s pretty clear he initially tried to get clever with the language. Saying “I have never used an illegal performance-enhancing drug” is not the same thing as saying “I have never used steroids.” Heck, it ain’t even the same thing as dropping the word illegal and saying “I have never used a performance-enhancing drug.” Later, Sammy said he has “never used a ban substance in the United States.” Still later than that (can we cite a language barrier?) when a congressman (more clever than Sammy by far and twice as nimble) read off the check list of denials (paraphrasing now) “Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling have all denied using steroids…you did deny using steroids, right Mr. Sosa?” Our friend, with his smiling face and his sprints to the outfield and his particularly buoyant bat, our friend was had.)

… It was not fun to see him (McGwire) taken down. I’m still not sure it should have happened. I can’t help but feel that baseball could be steroid-free without calling a retired player to the carpet like that. But…um… thanks for saving baseball that one summer.

Here’s my whole thing on steroids:

Steroids should be legal.
Steroids should probably be available only by prescription (some mechanism is needed to avoid abuse).
Steroid use by children should be prohibited.
Adequate enforcement and education should be directed toward preventing steroid use in children.
Employers should be allowed to prohibit steroid use just as they prohibit the use of other controlled substances.
Athletes should not be allowed (by terms of contract and/or on condition for admission to a particular league) to use steroids.
Athletes who use steroids (and there could be escalating penalties) should eventually be banned from sport.

Steroids improve your strength and therefore your quickness, but they can take so much away. People who use steroids are unpleasant and cannot control their temper. Men who use steroids get a big head and a small head at the same time. People who use steroids get acne and cancer and circulatory problems. Abuse of steroids can lead to tissue death and amputations. Steroids are hell on your major organs. People who use steroids in order to compete or excel in a world where, without them, they could not excel, are frauds.

But if consenting adults in the larger world want to look buff and cut, and those folks don’t mind a little erectile dysfunction, if those folks shoot and rub to their heart’s (dis)content so be it. My only request is that they put warning labels on the bottles:

“WARNING: Using steroids may cause you to end up like Jose Canseco or, natch, like Mark McGwire.”