Imagine, being a Christian and then learning that Jesus was a thief. Or that Celine Dion never really sings, she lip syncs.
This isn’t quite that drastic, but I’m crushed nonetheless. One of my sports idols has fallen from the pedestal. It’s not an easy feeling to have admired a person for so long, and then learn he or she isn’t worthy. It’s no different than having trusted a good friend only to learn that trust has been violated.
It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, music or acting, we human beings admire, and often idolize those who excel over others in their field because, well, they deserve it. Deniro, Streep, Heifetz, Pavarotti, Ruth, Woods, are all names that are instantly recognized and associated with greatness in their respective fields, because they deserve it. That’s the operative word: Deserve.
The best athletes excel over others because of two salient factors: Talent and hard work. The premise is that all competitors start out on an even playing field, and only the best rise to the top.
There is no room for a third factor: Cheating.
When the Mitchell report was released this past Thursday, naming more than eighty baseball cheaters that used drugs to enhance their physical prowess, I expected to hear about Barry Bonds, and Jason Giambi, and others that we already knew about. Then came the crushing news. Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher of the modern era, winner of 354 games, second all time in strikeouts, and so many more achievements worthy of immortality, will never see his name embossed on a plaque in the Hall of Fame, because he was a cheat.
Pete Rose, who holds the all-time record for most hits in a lifetime of playing the game, has been barred from baseball and never inducted into the revered Hall. Rose may have committed a moral infraction by gambling, but his records are intact. Every hit was legitimate. He never cheated.
I had been a baseball fanatic all my life until the strike of 1994, when I watched millionaire players whine and weep behind union leadership claiming their salaries and benefits were not good enough. Tom Glavine, who then earned four million dollars a year for throwing a ball, led the union into a strike that not only ended the 1994 season, it put thousands of merchants out of their sources of income, including vendors, restaurants, taxi drivers, hot dog sellers, and more. That’s when I stopped watching baseball.
Baseball was in the pits until 1998 when renewed excitement injected the game with a barrage of homers by the likes of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. In the entire 130-year history of the game, the magic mark of 60 homers were achieved in only two times, and suddenly, two players did it in one year. Others were smacking over 50. Amazing. McGuire’s 70 round-trippers brought me back as a fan. He was my new sports hero. By the way, that same year a better-than-average player named Barry Bonds hit a mere 37 home runs.
Not to be outdone, Mr. Bonds suddenly bulked up like the Incredible Hulk and three years later, slammed 73 home runs.
Now that the Mitchell report is official, we learn that the players — by the dozens — have stuck it to us once again. We fans are the victims of cheaters.
It can’t be attributed to greed, these guys make more money than the average human being could ever dream of. It can’t be the quest for fame, they already have it. It can only be, the almighty ego — that powerful drive to be seen as the best, even if they are not.
Having been a team member for many years, that is — a police officer in a team of 3500 cops, I came to learn that some officers (though very few) are able to get away with improper conduct only because their bosses enable them or look the other way. Police officers who tend to be physically abusive are usually known to the sergeants and lieutenants they work for. The camaraderie is too tight for the higher echelon to claim ignorance. If Jason Giambi, Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds were using steroids with the help of trainers, there is no doubt in my mind the likes of Joe Torres, Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker had knowledge, or even consent.
The shame is that players like McGuire and Bonds were destined for the Hall of Fame based on their outstanding records before they ever took the first drug. But that wasn’t good enough. They needed to be seen as better than Babe Ruth. That will never happen.
Marion Jones was recently stripped of her Olympic medals after it was learned that she used performance enhancing drugs to beat her opponents. Likewise, sprinter Ben Johnson of Canada was stripped of his records set in 1988.
Every baseball record that was set by steroid users starting in 1998, should be stricken from the record books.
Induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame? If it’s no place for gamblers, it’s certainly no place for cheaters.