When I was a kid, my dream was to dig a tunnel in my backyard and wind up in Disney World. I really thought I could do it, too. I’d get Gary Miller and Dennis Gargano and John Ballerini to come over with their shovels, and we’d dig and dig and dig until reaching the Magic Kingdom. Boy, that would have kicked butt.
When I was a kid, I also saw ballplayers as heroes. I never thought about marital infidelity or drugs or even cursing, spitting, missed curfews. Garry Templeton was the switch hitter with the cool ‘fro. Ken Griffey (he wasn’t known as “Senior” back then) made these insane leaping grabs in the Yankee Stadium outfield. J.R. Richard threw 100-mph bullets, Rod Carew slapped the ball to all fields, Tim Foli wore cool glasses, Gary Carter sported a curly brown mane, Ron LeFlore could burn rubber and Steve Garvey was Mr. Wonderful. These were my idols, and all I wanted was to one day be exactly like them.
Which leads me to a point I’ve been thinking about for much of today. Of the, oh, 30 e-mails I’ve received about my recent Alex Rodriguez postings, 90 percent have been negative. I’m too hard on ARod or too haughty when it comes to ARod. Everyone makes mistakes, what’s the big deal, you’re jealous, who really cares, they all do it, you’re nobody to judge, where were you in 2001, etc … etc. In short, get off your high horse, you wanna-be geek writer.
To be honest, I’m not even quite sure how to reply. On the one hand, a huge part of me wants to stop addressing this stuff. Many of you are 100-percent correctâ€”I tend to dwell on the negative, where there’s the freshness of a new season to write about. And, just like my boyhood, perhaps we’re better off simply not knowing what our heroes do behind closed doors. Does ARod’s steroid usage impact world peace, or global economics, or the homeless problem? Clearly not.
Yet, as I sit here before my laptop, admittedly sounding as self-righteous as ever, I just can’t do it. By luck or destiny or fate, I cover sports. I’ve done so for 15 years, largely out of a love for the games people play and the characters who play them. It’s a fantastic way to make a living, and I count my blessings quite often. But there’s something about this widespread cheating (and it is, undeniably, cheating) that drives me to drink. In my six years of covering major league baseball for Sports Illustrated, I was led to believe I was seeing a lot of amazing things. Faster-than-ever fastballs; deeper-than-ever homers; arms that acted as cannons, and jumps that rivaled Mike Powell’s best. In hindsight, however, I’ve learned that much of it was fiction. I was, in a sense, covering the WWF. Why does this bother me? Because I have always been a lover of baseball’s history; of the very idea that Mickey Mantle and Bernie Williams stood in the exact same spot; that Rickey Henderson’s stolen bases, Lou Brock’s stolen bases and Ty Cobb’s stolen bases can be measured on the same chart. Yes, things have changed over the years: Stadium sizes, ball textures, integration, internationalism. But baseball is baseball is baseball is baseball.
Hence, to see someone like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez come along and show such blatant disrespect for the history of the game, well, it infuriates me. I’ve written this before, but if you’re Barry Bonds, how do you possibly justify breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record while loaded with steroids and HGH? You know the man faced bitter racism in his pursuit; know he received death threats on more than one occasion. So how do you cheat? How? Or, in a similar case, you’re Mark McGwire. You’ve been juicing regularly, and when you pass Roger Maris’ single-season mark you rub your bat against his and begin to cry. How? How? Roger Maris’ 1961 was, from an individual standpoint, a nightmare. The media rooted against him; he began losing his hair and chain smoking. It was pure hellâ€”and you come along, cheat and claim the title as your own? How?
So, yes, I am self-righteous, and I need to move on, and my high horse is on stilts by now. But I just can’t shed this anger. I probably need to, but I can’t. Not yet anyhow.
That’s my sincere explanation.