Watching Major League Baseball deal with the steroid issue reminds me of many nights when my parents went bowling.
They'd given up their Saturday league when my brother and I were born, but by the mid-1980s we'd earned enough trust to be left alone the two nights a
month it met. I remember those nights fondly - just Joe and I, no limits except for our imaginations, we could do whatever we wanted to.
Usually, we broke something.
The basement, which contained all our plastic sporting equipment, was our typical lair. We had marked off a rudimentary baseball field, one in which
the pitcher's mound doubled as second base and it was possible to hit a home run AND a three-pointer at the same time, thanks to a
strategically-placed Nerf hoop. Here we indulged in the fantasies of youth, the kind that have sustained the game of baseball throughout the last
The 1984 Cubs were our usual team, not only because we were living in suburban Chicago, but also because the team's starting lineup fielded seven
potential right-handed hitters. On a field where the average left-handed swing hit a recliner and several trophies in addition to the ball, this was
an invaluable asset. Right-handers had their own peril, however - the Hanging Candles.
These were nothing more than standard candleholders attached to the wall, with glass cases to keep the wax off the carpet. They were about six feet
off the floor, and just the right height for a Nerf foul ball - or, if our hands were sweaty enough, foul bat. Over the years, we each had about two
dozen heart attacks from watching various pieces of cheap athletic equipment slam into the Hanging Candles - always, it seemed, just as our parents
were getting home.
This is what I've been thinking about while watching Congress look into the steroid problem in baseball.
The word that baseball likes to use to describe itself is "fraternity." It was the Fraternity of Baseball that mourned Darryl Kile in '02, that went
on strike in '95, and that admits a steroid problem now exists but has no idea
who might be part of it. Apparently this fraternity, this band
of brothers, which spends more time together each year than with their families, doesn't talk very much.
And now, after years at the Head-In-The-Sand Bowling Alley, Congress has come home to find a pile of syringes where the Hanging Candles used to be,
the game's offensive records shattered on the floor, and a fraternity of sheepish ballplayers who are Not Here To Talk About The Past. I spent the
week of the hearings hoping that - just once, just for a minute - a congressman would drop the officious routine and call out McGwire or one of the
others like a fan, and dare them to respond to it:
"Look, McGwire, you're already busted for Andro, you're admitting steroid use by not denying it, you and your records are a fraud, and the blood of
every kid who's dead from emulating you is on your hands. You don't want to talk about the past? Fine. Tell me, Mark, what's it going to be like
waking up with that on your mind for the rest of your life?"
Can you imagine the stammerfest that would've followed something like that?
Of course, that didn't happen, and it won't. As I've been typing this, the news has broken that Alex Sanchez, the world-beating outfielder with four
career home runs, has been suspended by Major League Baseball for testing positive for steroid use. I believe it was ESPN's Peter Gammons that
predicted this over a month ago - that the Fraternity of Baseball would throw somebody under the bus to make their sham of a drug policy seem
legitimate. They covered all their bases, too - they even made sure it wasn't a white guy, so that the presumption of guilt was already in place.
I used to blame the family dog when I broke stuff, too.
Of course, the real damage has already been done. Barry Bonds, a sphincter of a man, has set offensive records that will never be approached. He and
the other children have shredded, for me, the essential myth of Major League Baseball - that the games were natural, unscripted, pure. For the first
time in my life, I am completely unexcited about the beginning of the baseball season, and I have never been a casual fan. I haven't met anyone who's
spent more time immersed in baseball than I have been, and I'll be surprised if I watch more than a dozen games this year.
I might find myself in that old basement, though...Joe and I have been talking about having one final Nerf death-match down there while we still can.
Even though 20 years have passed, and the current Cubs have achieved a level of success unseen in our lifetimes, I guarantee you it'll be that same
1984 squad that takes the "field." They might have broken our hearts then, but they did it legitimately. I'll take that over a drug-stained pennant
every day of the week.
[Edited on 3/4/05 by TRD]