"I believe baseball is a beautiful and exciting game, loved by millions—I among them—and I believe baseball is an important, enduring American institution. It must assert and aspire to the highest principles—of integrity, of professionalism of performance, of fair play within its rules. It will come as no surprise that like any institution composed of human beings, this institution will not always fulfill its highest aspirations. I know of no worldly institution that does but this one, because it is so much a part of our history as a people, and because it has such a penchant on our national soul, has an obligation to the people for whom it is played to, its fans, and well-wishers to strive for excellence in all things to promote the highest ideals. I am told that I am an idealist. I hope so. I will continue to locate ideals I hold for myself and my country in the national game as well as in others of our national institutions."—former MLB Commissioner Bartlett Giamatti
--This article is not to claim any direct truth, but rather, indirect truth though literary perceptions and humor. I do however, directly opine on certain things but the intent and only intent of this article is for the reader to ponder the inhumanity of baseball's Steroid Era It is a history of a soul that was filled by baseball.--
Surely, many fans of The Simpsons have at one time seen the episode "Homer at The Bat" in which Mr. Burns infuses the Power Plant softball team with ringers from professional baseball in order to win a bet with a rival owner.
In my case, I remember when it was new in 1992. The episode seemed to epitomize everything great: baseball, animation, the best players in baseball, animation, and humor. I had the episode recorded to watch and rewatched on a VHS tape.
At age nine, it became the first time I remember being able to tolerate watching and rewatching something in its entirety. It also began my hobby of recording every episode of The Simpsons and other shows on VHS, which I recently took to the dump.
Though I do not assert that the writers knew something we did not, I do believe that the episode now seems prescient...in retrospect. In one case, the now infamous incident between George Steinbrenner and Don Mattingly about hair—was in fact foreshadowed by The Simpsons rather than mocked after the fact.
What seems prescient to me is that the fictional team owner Mr. Burns supplies a performance enhancing substance to the animated likeness of Ken Griffey Jr. The writers meanwhile portrayed Jose Canseco as a hero when the writers had originally intended a storyline in which Canseco was a sleazebag—sounds like they had it right the first time.
Also to that, the authority would condone the advantages of drug abuse so long as that behavior produces lucrative benefits—sounds like Bud Selig if you ask me; who should also be barred from the Hall of Fame. (That though makes me wonder if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should apply asterisks to the psychedelic musicians of the 1960s for writing songs while on performance-enhancing drugs).
The last I checked though, Ozzie Smith never fell from the face of the Earth (that honor belongs to Rafael Palmeiro), yet Barry Bonds has been the one with a grotesquely swollen jaw from performance enhancing substances rather than Ken Griffey Jr. Roger Clemens is only similarly clucking around like a chicken.
The following though is not so much another dissertation on who juiced when, why, where and with what... but rather, juice for thought.
[I do not insinuate juicing by anyone not already accused by the Mitchell Report]
I remember that spring, summer and fall in 1992 quite well, but also '93 and '94. Though I do not recall every-last detail, I still recall the chronology and those memories from this, there and to that.
From the dreams and obsessive desire for a Super Nintendo (another antique) the previous Christmas and the fever I had the night before that Christmas in 1991. Not sure if it was because I decided to read a Nintendo Power magazine about the new Super Nintendo during the pro-life rally in downtown Santa Cruz in the summer of 1991.
There were newborn kittens in March of '92 and one of which, named Rascal, was run over by a car. I mention that, because I thought it was interesting that the band Rascal Flatts is named after a dog named Rascal that was run over by a car.
I then moved from learning geography at the breakfast table, to mastering the GeoSafari, and then came the Erector set, both of which were received rather than the Super Nintendo.
For those who don't know me, I would one day astound people with what seemed like a completely trivial mastery of world capitals (there was more to it than that but superfluously it did seem trivial). My mechanical abilities however, are not exactly up to the same par—good but not the same level.
There were original Ninja Turtles and trips to the local card shop, Collector's Corner. Ten years later at the age of 19 in 2002, I would find that store sign by a dumpster behind a Quik Stop and lug it home.
Then began my process of shedding body weight and the weight of memories, by hauling home a heavy-ass piece of my childhood, walking up the hill as cars sped by, and past Soquel High School and "Blue Ball Park," past the graveyard along Old San Jose Road.
My dad would eventually use that board after a full teardown of a chimney. He used the board to cover the hole on a house that looked eerily similar to that of my great-grandmother's, a house that I had not seen since the age of four. When I mentioned that the house reminded me of Vovoo's, my dad's response was, "Good memory."
That was the summer of 2003 and the "Total Recall" campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor of California, in which I wrote many sketches for a radio producer, Bruce Maiman (who is now a host at KFBK in Sacramento), and college essays while on RockStar highs.
The summer of the rise of the machines; a reloaded matrix; a Claymation version of Conan O'Brien with Johnny Knoxville and later the 10-year Anniversary of Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and the beginning of futility for the Oakland Raiders after losing to their former coach in the Super Bowl.
The summer in which I watched Finding Nemo, Punch Drunk Love and The Graduate (at Yosemite National Park), and the Great Grid Blackout that seemed fitting after the rest of the country had mocked California in 2000 and 2001 for the Enron manufactured rolling brownouts. Of course, 2003 was also the first year in which the war in Iraq began. Alas though, nothing like "Oh, What a Night" by The Four Seasons.
I tangentially digress though, as usual.
There were Little League games in 1992 in which I was hit by a pitch. Games played with Russell Martinez, Matt Morales, Mickey Adams, Robert Stratton, Morgan Bouchard, Max Hodges, Landon, Willie, and others (I probably have the yearbook somewhere, so I apologize for not taking the time to look).
Watching in awe as Russell, Matt, and others would regularly hit home runs, while the only one to my credit had occurred the year before and earned the nickname, "Homer-bob."
Faded memories by now, even for me; only the true knowledge that it happened, evoking feelings reminiscent to that of Bob Wills & Texas Playboys singing “Faded Love.”
The name of that Little League team in 1992: The Yankees. So please, don't call me a Yankee hater. We would lose in the Capitola-Soquel playoffs to the Padres. They eventually lost to the Twins, who were coached by my first Little League coach, Charlie Thomas, who I didn't particularly like and would even target on the annual Closing Day water-fight. But it made me want to win even more.
In future years, I would have one homer robbed by Michael 'Hammerin' Hearst in a Little League playoff game between the Padres, the Red Sox, and us in 1994. He quickly climbed and then jumped from the centerfield fence with an extended arm, which sparked a rally in which we still lost, but took it to the bitter end.
We defeated the Braves a few days later for the Little League title. That became the pinnacle achievement in my elementary school days, which had been an emotional rollercoaster that would eventually rear its ugly head once again.
That summer, the O.J. Simpson saga began and Major League Baseball went on strike. There went my faith in baseball and the feeling of victory in baseball...and well, life.
I then thought of pro baseball players as mostly greedy-ass jerks—though my only grief then with O.J. was that the Bronco-chase preempted Urkel.
Though a year later in 1995, I would again play in the Little League title game. I was a Met and we lost to the White Sox, in spite of the fact that their banner said, "Go Wihte Sox."
That game was played on June 15, 1995 and came after a game on the previous Saturday of June 10, 1995 against the A's. It was a game where I had fulfilled my friend, John Shippy's, worst nightmare—to be the last out of a game. Perhaps my jadedness with baseball motivated my decision to catch that foul ball, but I cannot say that with certainty.
Had I simply dropped the ball—when I knew that it was John's worst nightmare—perhaps, the game on June 15 would have ended differently; perhaps I would have been more aware socially, and less unintentionally selfish.
Instead, that symbolically began my life as a social chameleon/comedian on a weekend that premiered an episode of Spider Man entitled "Day of the Chameleon." I would also throw-up on John's leg the next day during a birthday party, at the end of the Wipeout ride at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz (the ride is no longer there).
Though my jadedness did lead my interest in movies that summer, when I decided to watch Siskel & Ebert, which featured a review of A Walk in the Clouds.
In 1998, my interest in baseball reignited with of course, the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. That came after being jaded by the idea that achievement has meaning. I had turned to science fiction instead, and ultimately won tickets to a Star Trek convention by answering a question about an episode I had never seen ("Arena"). My interest restarted nonetheless.
Here I go back again, going down the only road I have ever known.
I would spend that summer of 1992 at games in Oakland against Minnesota and the White Sox. The 1992 Oakland Athletics won the division that year and featured of course, Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson, Rich 'Goose' Gossage, Ruben Sierra, Bob Welch, Terry Steinbach, and of course, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
It would be Oakland's last divisional title of the 1990's and the beginning of the futility that led to Billy Beane and the ways of Moneyball, and the last divisional title until the Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada powered A's eight years later in 2000...when I was 17.
Although my year at 17 was definitely unlike that of Frank Sinatra: endless pedantry in high school, video games, recording Law & Order episodes, and listening to Simon & Garfunkel sing "Old Friends" in Central Park would hardly qualify.
The year also involved Elian Gonzalez down in Florida, The Whole Nine Yards and X-Men, the old John McCain which ironically was a younger John McCain, Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football, the Monday Night Miracle, the FALN controversy, an endless recount of chads down in Florida. I also cannot forget either the start of the short-lived revival of the Oakland Raiders with Tim Brown, Rich Gannon, Jon Gruden, Bruce Allen, and Al Davis.
All right, back to future.
I still remember some-guy yelling, "Minnesota sucks," in 1992, and so I asked my dad in confusion, if he thought the Twins could hear him. I was only nine; at least it provides proof for where I was. I do remember watching the Twins and A's in July of that summer, when a no name named Randy Ready hit a grand slam and I thought how cool it was because I had his baseball card.
The game I remember was in Oakland against the White Sox. My dad, aka 'coach' had taken me and a kid from the team, Willie, because he wanted to do something nice because of Willie's tumultuous home-life—something that my dad understood from his own.
What sticks out in my mind the most however is looking through the binoculars to see Frank Thomas, aka "The Big Hurt." Though this connection is only superficial, it leads to a tangential parable on the state of modern baseball and all walks-of-life. Those superficial connections with tangential parables are often what create loyal fans.
Just ask Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell, who was a ball boy for the Chicago Cardinals in 1947 when the Cardinals won the NFL championship.
Perhaps this mythically ecumenical "Big Hurt" pervades us all; motivates us to succeed on the far-away thought that success might fill that void yet then comes more and more, then the catharsis sets in and you’re numb to its effects until the bottom drops out; while others revel in pleasure rather than try, before the bottom drops out.
The question then is how you fill that 'big hurt' and with what, when, where, and why. Refrain from indirectly denigrate however, the parents who do make active attempts to be role models. They aren’t the problem – money-grubbing liars who subvert the dreams of kids are the problem.
For those who wonder: what exactly justifies your righteous indignation? I would say—they did. The players earn their money on the assumption that fans want to see statistics that lead to wins; therefore, they went to steroids to achieve those statistics and in effect their paycheck, which is paid by loyal and sometimes fair-weather fans.
Thus, if the juiced players want money and thus strip away the subjectively human love for the game and in effect part of what makes people human—then I say, that makes the fans more than justified to berate those players and to say they don't belong in the Hall of Fame. They are no better than thieves angered by fellow thieves that steal what they have stolen.
They were young once to: How would they have felt if they learned their sports heroes had been frauds? Players like: Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Denny McLain, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Lou Brock, Ted Williams, Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, Don Driesdale. Continuing on, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovie, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, (but not Pete Rose) and so on and so forth.
How would you have felt if you learned they cheated for greatness? Perhaps had that been true, the course of sports history would be completely different—because the players of today might never have wanted to play.
To me, the only way that the writers should induct the juicers into the Hall of Fame, is if and only if, the juicers turn over 90% of the money they’ve made from endorsements and other contracts while juicing to their former teams or to charities.
That money would go to promote awareness a) against steroids, b) against dishonest achievements, and c) of the game’s true legacies, because I do not accept the belief that because they are statistically the “best” they then earn an induction into the Hall of Fame.
It is like arguing that: if I can fake it ‘til I make it, then you can’t deny me the fruits of what I so rightfully stole. Thus, the only means for their redemption is, chose what matters more: their ill-gotten money or their legacy. They only get one.
The Baseball Writers of America though, hold the keys to the juicers kingdom, and so, if those players want in, then the writers have an obligation to demand answers and changes rather than just simple apologies.
They need to hold their legacies for ransom. Until then, they are just bums who thought they could transcend the legacies and embodiment of the game by running up the stats. If they truly love the game, they’ll pay-up for their redemption. The cure is NOT worse than the disease.
I truly would say—throw the baby out with the bath water unless they sacrifice themselves for the achievements that they stole and now want a legacy for. The bottom line is—the juicers should have to humble themselves before the fans, if they want recognition from fans through the history books.
I have no problem with blacking-out/whiting-out them from history unless they do so, as they blacked-out/whited-out the dreams of an untold number of fans after the 1994 strike. Perhaps ‘roid rage hindered their abilities to negotiate in 1994, but I cannot prove that with certainty. They can accept the amalgamated truth of what they know, but that which we cannot prove.
By now, you the reader must be wondering: if baseball and sports has jaded you, why do you watch and write about it, and why do you ramble along a tangential timeline?
The answer is simple: I still believe in the idea that some players and teams transcend the fray of Hall of Fame snake-oilers and truly believe in the game they play (or played) and that sports heroes exist, as those abstractly amalgamated as Joe DiMaggio by Paul Simon in “Mrs. Robinson.”
Like Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald or Adrian Wilson and the Arizona Cardinals. Alternatively, David Eckstein, Mark Ellis, Eric Byrnes, or Marco Scutaro and I still believe in Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas.
As for the tangential timeline thing... not sure—that is just how I think when it comes to retrospect. What happens later sometimes proves something after the fact, on something that happened earlier; and what happens earlier sometimes affects the future.
It is either that, or I watched Citizen Kane too much, but also thought too much about that token trophy from Charlie Thomas with the mythically ecumenical inscription, "All Heart."