Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening Day

We have passed through the Void, largely unscathed, and reached the opening day of baseball.

We enter this year's season with hopes and worries. The World Baseball Classic gave us hope, hope that the game would expand to new markets, hope that a new era of international competition was beginning, and hope that American's could see how beautiful their national pastime is to watch.

The new book, Game of Shadows, with old allegations has us worried that people will let the sports writers create the narrative of the game. I'm not saying that steroids are not a serious issue for baseball, they are. But Game of Shadows is a re-presentation of the allegations, and evidence, which led Congress and the public to put pressure on baseball to have its current "3 strikes you're out" steroids policy. It seems small minded to me for the press to continue talking about the Bonds story as if it is new, rather than a continuation of an existing scandal.

Sports writers, contrary to the representation in Gehrig's speech in Pride of the Yankees, are the traditional "enemy" in baseball narratives. Think about The Natural (book and movie), Eight Men Out, The Southpaw, especially The Southpaw because there is no ambiguity regarding the protagonist's heroism. Remember that if sportswriters want to be more than presenters of statistics they have to find scandals or narratives of heroics. They need to tell stories in order to justify their existence. When few of the writers are talking about the amphetamine problems (""That's going to shake it up a little bit," Estrada said. "Amphetamines have been around since the days of Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle. It was kept hush-hush and just accepted. Now that they're in the public eye, guys are getting criticized for taking them. I've heard guys say they'd retire if they can't take amphetamines. I don't know if they're joking or not.") of players, and focus on Steroids, they are overlooking the other problems of the game for the "crisis du'jour."

As anyone who studies baseball knows, cheating has always been a part of the game. It is baseball's dirty little secret. A-Rod "bumps" the first baseman, like Cobb used to "ram" the first basemen. Anyone who has read Old Time Baseball knows that a part of the great tradition of baseball is the correcting of past, less than moral, occurances.

Fritz once shared with me a funny bumper sticker regarding car racing, "There are two kinds of drivers...cheaters and losers." I think that the history of baseball is filled with this mentality. Even players who don't cheat won't hesitate to play as sneakily as the rules allow. The struggle of rules makers is to find the cheaters and punish them when they find them.

Let's enforce baseball's stricter new steroids policy. Let's not dwell in the past, recent or distant. Because, trust me, if you think there is some golden age when baseball was pure, I would be happy to talk with you about Mickey Mantle's bacterial infection and its causes or Joe D and his "wonderful treatment" of Marilyn Monroe.

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