As a sportswriter, it is almost a job requisite to read the work of other sportswriters obsessively.
I relish this, and frankly, I would do it anyway, even without the workplace pressure to be informed.
Unfortunately, in the course of this feverish browsing, there are moments where I find myself questioning a majority of my esteemed (and much more accomplished) brethren. It is jarring as a young sportswriter, still wet behind the ears, to view the work of those you admire with something approaching horror.
However, the reaction of many sports-media experts to Alex Rodriguez’s admission of steroid use during the 2001-2003 Major League Baseball season sent chills racing up and down my spine.
About 60 percent of the opinions, whether in column or blog form, seemed to say, in near-exasperation, “Get over it.”
One pundit even went so far to say that cherished baseball records like Hank Aaron’s all-time home run tally (broken by steroid suspect Barry Bonds in 2007) are “not as sacred as everyone says they are.” Another told us to “live in the present.”
Well, at the risk of sounding like an out-of-touch sports bumpkin, “Golly-gee-whilikers” and cheating is wrong.
Those records and statistics are what generation after generation of Americans grew up memorizing and reciting to one another on playgrounds.
In a snowdrift, on a tetherball court or in the cafeteria, if you were a young baseball card-hound, you knew those stats better than fractions or adverbs.
To suggest that nearly five generations of sports fans should ignore the insidious and destructive nature of steroids on their game … not a chance.
In fact, the commissioner, the players’ association and all those vaunted billionaires should be crawling hat-in-hand to those who are still watching.
This is the fans’ game, and in the whirl of increased attendance and high profits due to increased offensive numbers, everyone forgot this.
The players’ association fought drug testing at every turn. Can you imagine if some organization fought against blood-alcohol tests for drivers suspected of DUI? They’d be laughed out of whatever room they were in. MADD and SADD would ride them out of town on a rail.
But, as fistfuls of cash were shoved towards merchandisers for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa jerseys, and advertisers vied for choice home run-race commercial time, everyone associated with Major League Baseball conveniently ignored the fact that the bodies of its ballplayers were growing into less-green versions of the Incredible Hulk.
I don’t buy the excuse that “everyone was doing it, so to be competitive, A-Rod had to do it too,” as one analyst suggested.
The man, if he’s not lying through his teeth, started juicing when he signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers for the 2001 season.
Based on A-Rod’s word, his clean, steroid-free performance before this time actually garnered him that contract, then the most lucrative in sports history.
Why then, if a player is cleanly playing at such a high level as to eclipse the achievements of those taking drugs to make themselves superhuman, would he turn to steroids? Would it not be a greater indicator of his character to wear his drug-free performance as a badge of honor and laugh in the face of those who felt they were forced to turn to performance enhancers?
I think the answer is “yes.”
This column is not about what Bud Selig should do to protect records. It is not about proposals of a “Steroid-Era Asterisk” for future Hall-of-Famers that played during this grim period.
This column is about right and wrong.
I am in no way absolved of guilt. I jumped into the McGwire-Sosa home run frenzy of 1998 with a vengeance, taping (on a VCR, remember those?) every game down the stretch. In the case of a two-channel broadcast, I always went with WGN because I liked that color commentator’s gravelly inflection better.
I still have the tape, made on Sept. 8, 1998, of McGwire’s 341-foot blast off opposing pitcher Steve Trachsel of the Chicago Cubs to break Roger Maris’s record. The rest of the tapes have been lost in the process of moving, but that tape … I kept.
But now, even though McGwire was never proven to be guilty by a court, his complicity in tearing down a record that I knew nearly from birth by nefarious means is clear in my mind.
If there were still any reason to use a VCR, I’d record over that tape with stale sitcoms or a History Channel special on toaster ovens.
When A-Rod’s turn comes and records are on the cusp of being shattered, the solution, for me, will be easy.
I won’t even turn my TiVo on.