Role model for our kids? I think not
I have to disagree with Dirk Hayhurst's recent column vis-a-vis Ryan Braun, Manny Ramirez and a whole buncha other ballplayers who did and possibly still do use steroids or other PEDs to get an edge in the game. Let me begin by saying that I'm a huge fan of Dirk Hayhurst. In fact, some of my favorite pitcher-author-columnists are called Dirk Hayhurst. This stems only partially from my rooting interest in him last season, as a member of the starting rotation of the Durham Bulls, to A) Bean the Mascot, B) get promoted to Tampa Bay and then C) write eloquently about both.
It also has to do with having met and interviewed Dirk several times during the '08 and '09 seasons and having him be the only MLB player (when he was pitching for the Blue Jays) to look my 9-year old son in the eye and say, "I wouldn't use steroids, and you shouldn't either. It's cheating." And Joe said back to him, "Okay, I wouldn't, either." I felt that we made solid progress on the war on drugs in baseball that day, at least in my household.
Dirk laid out a nice argument in his column that the only way to truly stop drug use in the game was for us fans— including and in many cases especially fathers like me who are passing the game along to our innocent offspring— to boycott the game, forget we ever knew or cared about Seaver and the '69 Mets, take up hiking or racket sports, teach our children lyric poetry instead of how to hold Daisuke's gyro-ball, and otherwise "vote with our wallets" until baseball got the message and stopped rewarding juicers with light slaps on the wrist and multimillion dollar guaranteed contracts.
The thing is, Dirk, I tried it. Tried to walk away from baseball after the '08 season after a lifetime of fandom. Tried to stop teaching it to my son, who kept tugging on my sleeve and asking questions that ranged from, "Dad, was Sandy Koufax any good?" to "Dad, do you think Griffey Jr. was on the juice?" Tried to get really interested in horticulture and politics, and neither one worked. I couldn't stay away from baseball.
Was Ryan Braun juiced when he won the MVP in 2011?
The thing that gets me about the steroids situation in baseball is the profoundly mild response about it that has come from the game itself. Not only from the clean players who must have been just about beside themselves with fury over seeing juiced players get promoted ahead of them. But from the managers, the coaches, the owners, the trainers, the broadcasters...everyone associated with the game who clearly saw what was going on and didn't move to stop it.
I mean, Lou Piniella, whom I met and profiled in an article when he was with the Mariners, was a really stand-up guy—a father figure—who got really upset when an ump blew a call on the field. Kicked things, threw bases, dribbled white spittle out of the corners of his lips. Where was the same outrage over his players and opponents using skanky street drugs? If someone had walked into the Mariners' clubhouse circa 2001 with a bag containing what he claimed to be magic opium that would make the players perform better, Lou would have kicked his ass from here to Poughkeepsie. Yet the same thing was going on, albeit surreptitiously, behind his (and every manager's) back for a decade.
In that same meeting when Dirk spoke to my son, it was Joe who offered a solution to the steroid problem, a solution that I still think is the only one that will work. Joe said, "Hey, I know! Why don't you get Cito Gaston on the phone and tell him he should refuse to play another game—take all of his players off the field—until all of the steroids-taking players are kicked out of the game?" (If you ever want to see a look of stunned silence on Dirk Hayhurst's face, ask him something like that.)
A tad extreme, to be sure, but the kid had a point. The only way baseball is going to clean up is when the inner circle of baseball gets a little mad about what is happening to cheapen their game and takes an extreme, united stand against drugs. When the senior statesmen of the game—the Pujolses, Jeters, Verlanders, Sciosias and Leylands, just to name a few—stand up united and say, very loudly and clearly, "We won't stand for this anymore. We won't let this happen to our game and our profession." Figuratively pick up a base and throw it; let the Mannys and the Brauns of this world have it. Make it extremely uncomfortable for a guy to choose the juice route to a bigger contract.
Get mad, in other words. Let us, the fans and parents, know that they think it's important. And then maybe I won't have to answer more of my kid's questions about steroids in baseball. And we can get back to throwing gyro-balls in the backyard again.
Jim Gullo is an author and journalist based in McMinnville, Oregon. His book, TRADING MANNY: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again will be released on March 13.