M & J-
Something very interesting and newsworthy happened today, and since you’re both a little young for me to discuss this with you, and you weren’t around for the offenses that led to today’s events, I want to preserve the context and importance for future reference. Maybe you won’t ever care at all about baseball, performance enhancing drugs, or the 30 year cloud that has resided over professional athletics because of the epidemic of “cheating,” but I think this all speaks to a larger cultural issue anyway.
I want you to read this, written today by a dear friend, fellow father of two young ones, and baseball enthusiast, Steve Valdez.
I’m proud of baseball today.
I love this game above all others. It represents so many things of our human condition that often get overlooked. Understanding that you will likely fail more than you succeed; knowing that you alone cannot do everything; preparing for the possibility of seeing your hopes fly out of the ballpark; but also knowing that there is no time clock, the game isn’t over until it’s over.
But, baseball also represents a truth we face every day in this world: sometimes those who cheat just do better, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
For those who don’t know, there was a time in the 80’s and 90’s that was known as the “steroid era” of baseball. Professional players were dosing themselves with performance enhancing drugs to boost their stats and, in all honesty, it worked. Records were broken, not just once or twice, but several times over. Heroes of baseball past were overshadowed by these powerhouses of baseball present. And all the while, we praised these inflated players without question.
I believe the moment that best defined the power of the steroid era was a 1998 Diamondbacks/Giants game.
It was the bottom of the ninth, the Diamondbacks were winning 8-6, there were two outs, the bases were loaded, and the one and only Barry Bonds stepped up to the plate.
It was the stuff baseball poets write about.
But Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter would have none of it. In an unheard of move, Showalter had his pitcher intentionally walk Barry Bonds, scoring a run for the Giants and putting them within one run with the bases loaded.
Showalter was afraid of Barry Bonds. And he should have been.
Because Showalter chose to give up one run instead of a very likely 2 or more runs, the Diamondbacks won 8-7 that night.
Only one other time had a player been intentionally walked with the bases loaded in over 100 years of Major League Baseball history, and he had hit four home runs in a row.
It wasn’t until the 90’s that we really began to question the power that was being wielded. Players came forward and confessed their drug use, others steadfastly denied, and all the while the credibility of baseball, America’s favorite pastime, had been besmirched.
Fast forward to today.
Today, baseball’s greatest honor is being given. Today, the Baseball Hall of Fame is allowing a few more to join those legends that wait in the halls of Cooperstown. Today, premiere names from the steroid era, like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa, have the chance to be immortalized in baseball history. All they need is a vote of 75% or more from the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) to be allowed into the Hall of Fame.
Today, zero players have been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now, as long as they get at least a 5% vote, they’ll have another chance next year, and for the next fifteen years that they can keep that 5%.
But even if any of these men get a majority vote in later years, at least baseball said, just this once, “no”. Even if it’s just this one year, baseball stood in front of these men, looked them in the eye, and said “We know. It may have been denied, unproven, even celebrated at the time, but right now, right here, with baseball’s greatest honor in front of you, we want to tell you that we know. And you are not welcome here.”
Will these men ever get into the Hall of Fame? Possibly. Was it unfair to those on this year’s ballot that did not use steroids? Yes.
But today, January 9, 2013, baseball has made a stand for the purity of our game.
Today, even more than usual, I am proud to be called a baseball fan.
Instant gratification is so deeply engrained in modern times that it feels strangely counter-cultural to witness a powerful rebuke so long after the offenses that were committed. There’s also something beautiful about this balance of power that allows those who preserve and progress the story of baseball to deny the entrance of those they believe threatened the game’s value and values. It’s our obsession with instant gratification that led Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmiero and countless others to artificially inflate their own abilities on the field, ultimately at their own expense down the road. This isn’t just a stand for the purity of the game- it’s a stand for what’s left of the purity of our ability to appreciate things. As a society of fans, we let people swindle us with a spectacular illusion because our need to be entertained outweighed our desire for substance. The baseball fans who sold their souls for the long ball are the same types of people who allow Michael Bay, who makes movies with 100 pounds of explosives for every one ounce of plot, to have more success at the box office than true forms of cinematic art. It’s the same urge that allows us to tolerate auto-tuned voices over computer beats when our soul longs for real music. It makes us pull into the McDonald’s drive through when our bodies crave the nourishment of a balanced home-cooked meal.
We need to know that while consequence may not travel at the same pace as gratification, it does travel, and for our actions there will be recourse. In the case of those that cheated baseball, and the ones who allowed it to happen, today is one of those days. We should take this as a lesson that we are not exempt from the haunting of the ghosts of corners-cut past. My hope for you is that you can learn from mistakes others have made. My hope as a father is that I learn enough to love you both in a way that shows you how to seek long-term reward rather than short term gain.