When news leaked that baseball was battling a steroids problem, I hopped in my car and cruised aimlessly around Southern California, struggling to see the road through moistened eyes, wondering how I could have let myself be so blindsided. You mean Jason Giambi didn't grow that second jaw and Mark McGwire didn't put on those 25 pounds of muscle naturally? Could Barry Bonds actually have been cheating when he entered a second prime in his late 30s? Maybe I drove to search for answers. Maybe I drove to find my lost innocence. Maybe I drove to remember why I loved baseball in the first place.
Or maybe I just made all of that up.
Unlike most of the idiots who have columns, I'm the idiot who is delighted by the current steroids crisis. I can't even tell you what part I've liked best. Giambi apologizing profusely for something he wouldn't reveal? Bonds claiming he was deceived into using a steroid cream? McGwire clamming up during the congressional hearing like Frankie Five Angels? Viagro spokesman Rafael Palmeiro pooh-poohing any insinuation that he would use a performance enhancer? The possibility that Jose Canseco—quite possibly the dumbest athlete of my lifetime—was the mastermind who brought down baseball? Or was it that so many members of the media seemed traumatized by the stream of revelations?
Self-righteousness, moral outrage, sweeping self-importance &hellip this "scandal" has it all. More than one columnist decided this was baseball's version of Watergate, which certainly makes sense: Watergate led to the resignation of a president and sent our country into a profound, decade-long funk. Steroidsgate caused an offensive boom in which every statistical norm has pretty much been thrown out the window. It's a totally valid comparison. One scribe who revisited McGwire's historic season came off like an adult who just found out Santa Claus didn't exist.
Seriously, could these people really have not known? Contact hitters suddenly hit 40 homers. Shortstops looked like soccer players one day, the Ultimate Warrior the next. Relievers who'd always thrown in the low 90s topped 98. None of this seemed strange? Honestly, was anyone watching these guys and saying, "Wow, I'd love to hire his personal trainer. He looks fantastic!" During the 1999 All-Star Home Run Derby, I was in Fenway as McGwire (who, like Giambi, was skinnier in college than Screech Powers) launched homers over the Monster. Sure, the baseballs were wound tighter than Jerry Jones's face, but there wasn't a second when I thought the guy was doing what he was doing without help.
Here's the funny thing: I didn't care. I wanted to see Big Mac reach the Mass Pike. I knowingly looked past the signs that night, just like I did throughout the Maris Chase and every other shaky event since the 1994 strike. What did these guys do wrong, anyway? If Giambi can post huge numbers and sucker someone into ponying up a nine-figure contract, why should we stop him? What difference does it make if a pitcher gains velocity from an enhancer or form a dead guy's knee ligament that has been transplanted into his elbow?
Doesn't everyone cheat? Baserunners pass stolen signs to hitters; catcher frame balls to make them look like strikes; foreign players lie about their age; outfielders pretend they caught balls they rapped; pitchers scuff; hitters cork. Cheating has always been part of the game, right up there with potbellied managers and the seventh-inning stretch.
Maybe I'm in the minority, but I think the steroids subplot is a superb wrinkle to the 2005 season. There have been so many highlights already. Team Selig getting tough on anonymous minor leaguers and obscure players like Devil Ray Alex Sanchez. bonds taking his sweet time recovering from knee surgery. Poor Brian Roberts, he of the improbably seven homers, becoming the subject of more unsubstantiated rumors than Lindsay Lohan. Some suspected longtime juicers looking slimmer and struggling mightily in April. And the media's accusatory reaction after Nomar's groin muscle tore right form the bone. (You'd think someone noticed a syringe sticking out of his butt as he lay writhing on the ground.)
It's a new era for baseball. We aren't just fans anymore, we're steroids detectives. We've all mentally prepared ourselves for every possible scenario. At this point, we wouldn't be surprised if someone's arm flew off his body during a swing.
So is it a loss of innocence? Absolutely. I'm at a loss about why anyone ever thought these guys were innocent. Now if we found out Roy Hobbs was juicing, that would be a loss of innocence.
(Then again, he did have a career year in his mid-30s &hellip )