White Cover Magazine
I’m the owner of the few unpopular opinions.
Among the most serious – I like ketchup on my fries, not on the side, I don’t care if you do up your suit buttons, and I’m really starting to hate this new do-gooder Internet. (Maybe those are popular opinions, actually.)
But also, I think steroid users should be in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Maybe not every steroid user, certainly not the middle-of-the-road juicers or the rule-breakers going forward, now that the hammer has come down. (If you’re going to inject or swallow the pill now, you’re a damn idiot. You’ve seen what happens to all-time greats who’ve either tested positive or just cried on TV, and you know the consequences.)
It’s not that I think steroid use should be condoned or even forgiven. (Quite the opposite, actually.) It’s not that I like these men or really even feel bad for them. At all. I couldn’t stand Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens during their careers, and it had nothing to do with their anabolic experiments. I didn’t like them because all indications said they were complete as*holes.
But I simply cannot stand anyone who’s going to sit back and say these guys weren’t the greatest players of their generation, or certainly the defining ones. Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Palmeiro, then Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez. Do you remember them, or Craig Biggio? (No offence to Biggio. Love that guy, but he wasn’t exactly popcorn material playing an honest career down there in Houston.)
It’s in one way an awful thing that a bunch of dopers re-wrote the record books of America’s pastime, but in another way it’s a terrific thing.
Because baseball has never been clean. The league never did any extra work to penalize or even routinely check these guys, until of course it got difficult to pretend it wasn’t happening anymore.
I remember being 10 years old – 10 frickin’ years old, before I even knew what masturbation was – and even then I knew Mark McGwire was on steroids, or on something that basically made your arms bigger, made you stronger, but also shrunk your balls. Seriously, that’s not to make you giggle. It was a joke you used to always hear – steroids make your head big and your penis small.
When I was in grade 5, in 1998, myself and a lot of North America watched McGwire and Sosa battle each other to be the first to beat Roger Maris’s 61 single-season home runs. A record that stood for 37 years was obliterated eventually by nine – McGwire finished with 70, Sosa with 66 – and it’s been broken again since then, multiple times. Barry Bonds now owns the asterisk with the 73 he hit in 2001, when Sosa also hit 64. Roger Maris has now slid to seventh all-time, but he’s still the highest among the Mr. Cleans.
It’s a joke, truly. But that’s also why I think these guys should be let into the Hall, not to anoint them or to canonize them, but to etch the mistake forever into the game’s temple of boom – I don’t want Bud Selig to comb over baseball’s darkest era the same way he combs over his hair.
(I know the man’s retired now but, come on, he’s still the Commissioner in your mind, isn’t he?)
I don’t want baseball to toss these guys aside like they were some anomaly, some freakish growth that tainted the sport. They weren’t the anomaly after all, they were the institution.
And like I said, little ol’ 10-year-old me knew what was going on. We would joke about McGwire in my house, about his big arms and his little nuts. I remember sitting there, watching him hit home run No. 62 against Sosa’s Cubs, with Maris’s family on-hand, and I remember my parents and grandparents having a discussion about whether it really counted or not, because it was just known well and wide that McGwire was on something. The conversation yielded a very convenient answer: “Yes, of course it counts. Steroids don’t make you a great player. Maybe they add a home run here or there, but whatever… he broke the record. It’s done. Just let me enjoy the show.”
And it’s not that I think the Solinsky family should be called in front of the Hall’s voters to enter that eloquent, forgiving, somewhat cynical opinion into consideration. It’s just, if I was 10 years and I knew, and my parents were casual fans and they knew, and we were living in White Rock, British Columbia – a cultural galaxy away from St. Louis, Missouri – and we knew together, then how did Bud Selig not know? How did baseball’s reporters not know? How did they at least not know of the rumour that was going around? And wouldn’t that rumour have been enough to (just maybe) conduct an investigation back then?
Instead, they waited. Baseball’s gate keepers and rule makers waited until Bonds broke the record three years later, and then they waited again until popular opinion turned the tide against them and their players’ cheating – I wanna say it really ramped up during the 2004 season and 2005 offseason, if memory serves, when Rafael Palmeiro and McGwire and the like were called in front of some kangaroo court to (not) confess their wrongs.
Baseball has always been a collapsed lung of a game controlled, marketed, and ruled over by frauds. It’s packaged to us as America’s pastime and its holy summer sport, but even that narrative is bull. It’s a business – it has employees, it has leeches and suckers who benefit from the discussion and the storyline, and it has a dictator.
And we all – as fans – pretended we were outraged and shocked when our favourite players, our icons were named to the lists and the reports and the chapters of Jose Canseco’s memoir. In fact, we were pretending when we treated these guys as icons in the first place. They’re just men… silly, stupid, bloated, inflated men with egos and fears and faults.
But we’re the cause for all that in a way, as well. We’re the mob. The hungry, short-sighted, weak and hungry mob that gets off on it all – from the crumbs of the steroid era to that ridiculously over-the-top Derek Jeter farewell tour, where we endured touchy-feely, sobbing Facebook shares of people who didn’t seem to realize Michael Jordan’s just trying to make money.
In a twisted way, McGwire’s baby-like balling is the only honest baseball moment I can think of right now.
Is that a good thing? No, of course not.
But it also happened.
Put these guys in the Hall, so they’ll always be there in bronze and we can always look them in the face, and maybe then look baseball in the face, too – right or wrong.
Then again, actually… who cares?
It’s only a game, after all.