Thursday, December 20, 2007

December 19, 2007

     The Olympic Committee stripped Marion Jones of the five medals she won at the 2000 Olympic Games, stripped sprinter Ben Johnson of the one he won in 1988 because they'd been using illegal drugs.  Now it's baseball's turn
     The Olympians lost their medals, their places in the record books.  But can baseball do that?  The closest parallel may be the 1919 Chicago White Sox.  Eight members of that team were charged with throwing the Series to the Cincinnati Reds.  They were acquitted in court--the confessions of two, Eddie Cicotte and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson went missing.  But they were banned from baseball for life.  Legend tells of a little kid saying to Jackson, "Say it ain't so, Joe."   Jackson,  who had the highest batting average of any player on either team during the series, later recanted his confession .   I've always wondered about him, but the ban stood.
     What's baseball to do now?  You could erase Barry Bonds' home run record from the books, of course.  But George Mitchell's report names many players.  Mitchell was an honest and conscientious senator when I knew him and there's no reason to think his character has changed.  Some of the players named in his report have admitted it;  some--Roger Clemens, notably--have denied it.  But so many are named baseball would simple have to pretend the past few seasons never happened if it tried to erase all the incidents.  And nobody, in any case, has reported a little kid saying, "Say it ain't so, Barry."  Not likely, somehow.
     A couple of things are obvious:  when ballplayers make millions of dollars a year, and a trainer of a friend says, "Hey, swallow these and you'll play even better and swallow even more," some players, some of any of us, will say, "Okay. Gimme 'em."  So part of the solution--or at least part of addressing the problem to see if it can be solved--is much more stringent drug testing.   Every game?  I don't know, but whatever would be very, very tough.
     But the larger question is, do we want more and more records set by oddly shaped men?  Or do we want a game we can enjoy and normal people can play.  Ted Williams, the last major leaguer to hit over .400 for a season, looked, trust me, like a normal guy.  Baseball isn't the national pastime anymore.  Maybe football is, or NASCAR.  But it's a swell game and let's hope it gets back to being a swell game that normal people play.  If that's what we want, we should let the game know it.       

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