Thursday, May 7, 2009

Awesome night card, pt. 33 (and what this has to do with Manny)

I don't know where to begin. I know what I want to say, but I don't know how to start or what to mention and what to leave out. I think the best way, before I get too far off the topic of the card presented here and you forget that I even posted this card, is to mention why I'm showing it and then go on my rant. I hope it all makes sense.

This card is one of my all-time favorite night cards. It's definitely in the top five. The card has it all. The full view of the field, the lights, the display board, the players lined up on either baseline, the goofy National League road uniforms, the patriotism, the cigarette ad. It's all here.

But beyond that, it's one of my favorites for what it symbolizes: that no matter what happens, no matter how many incompetent, greedy, soulless, clueless people inhabit the game of baseball, the game will not die. You can't kill it. You can't.

The 1981 All-Star Game took place on Aug. 9, less than a month after I turned 16. It was delayed from its scheduled July 14th date because of the players' strike that wiped out 50 games in the middle of the summer. It was my first experience with corporate injustice, and I spent those 50 long summer days without baseball trying to wrap my head around what was going on between the players and owners.

You couldn't have found a more disappointed, perplexed individual. So when the two sides announced a resolution and that they would begin the second half of the season with the All-Star Game it was as if someone had let me out of solitary confinement.

I remember that All-Star Game more vividly than any other one before or since. I remember all the people there in Cleveland -- it's still the largest crowd to ever watch an All-Star Game. I remember Fernando Valenzuela starting the game. I remember Gary Carter hitting his two home runs to help lead the National League to a 5-4 victory. I remember the sheer elation I felt that baseball was back, and that I could return to my regularly scheduled programming of reading boxscores in the newspaper every morning.

Now, fast forward through a few more work stoppages, the Pete Rose gambling upheaval, a canceled World Series, steroid scandals, congressional hearings, and we're where we are today, absorbing the news that another one of our greatest hitters of all-time, Manny Ramirez, has taken an illegal performance-enhancing drug.

The news around noon today stunned me but did not surprise me. When I first heard it, I had just finished posting about the Dodgers' record win streak. I can only express the feeling as a stunned "oh, crap" feeling. It was nowhere near the feeling you'd get if, say, you were just informed that you had been fired, but it was definitely in the same arena.

Anger came soon after that because I knew what was coming. I would have to defend the Dodgers, because people would say they'd be nothing without Ramirez in the lineup. I would have to defend baseball, because people would say all of the players in my sport were cheaters. I would have to hear all the know-it-alls who claimed to know exactly what Ramirez took and why he took it and why baseball banned him. And I knew that I had no answers or responses for these people. So I wrote an extremely short post and shut my mouth.

Now I am opening it. My gut feelings: the Dodgers are better than people think they are; there are plenty of ballplayers who do not use PEDs; Ramirez probably knew that he was taking something that he shouldn't.

Here are some more gut reactions:

I am not surprised by the Ramirez revelation because going by the history of ballplayers who have been outed for taking PEDs, they fall into two, possibly three camps. And Ramirez is probably in camp No. 2 or No. 3.

Camp 1: Ballplayers who are struggling to hang on to their career. They are either always on the verge of being sent down or released or they have had injury issues. These are desperate players who are trying to feed their family just like you and me (although with a little more cash), and they make a bad mistake.

Camp 2: Players who are morally bankrupt. You know who I am talking about. These players are so self-centered that taking PEDs is just one indicator of several character flaws. They usually have many, many other issues in life. They're cheating in a whole lot of areas.

Camp 3: Players who make too much damn money and are basically corporate pawns. The pressure to perform on these players is so immense that only the most centered players can avoid the temptation to take something that may keep the owner and the organization and the manager and the teammates and the media and the fans and the goddam clubhouse boy off their backs.

When it comes to guessing if someone is a user or not, I usually look at players on a case-by-case basis. If they have a good track record, if they're good citizens, cordial with fans and the media, involved in charity, love their family, have no anger issues, haven't shoved club employees because they didn't get enough tickets, then, yeah, they're probably not going to fall into camp 1, 2 or 3. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I never gave Manny the benefit of the doubt. I wanted him on my team. I loved to see him play. But I never got caught up in Mannywood or thought he was "a changed man." I've seen the tire tracks. I know where he's been. It wasn't that I thought he was on PEDs or thought he was NOT on PEDs. Everytime I saw him play, I HOPED he wasn't on PEDs.

Contrary to the title of my last post, which was written in anger, I don't think all players are using. I'm certain that many are not. But I also believe this: ballplayers aren't any different than anyone else in sports. You think more baseball players are using PEDs than players in football or basketball or other sports? I don't. I think the hue and cry is greater in baseball because, first, people like to take shots at baseball because it is one of this fine country's great institutions, and second, baseball is about preserving a legacy. We're concerned with records and tradition and beautiful green grass, which is a good thing I think. Meanwhile, football is proud of its lawlessness. Steroids? Yeah, I take 'em. I sprinkle them on my breakfast cereal every morning and brush my teeth with them every night. Baseball still has a soul. I think football lost its soul awhile ago.

I also believe that baseball players aren't any different from the rest of society. Major League Baseball is sponsored by Viagra for crying out loud! You can't watch a damn game without seeing an ED commercial at least five times. And there are countless other ads for other drugs to fix things that you didn't even know were wrong with you. (Is acid reflux so much of a problem that I have to see large displays of Prilosec when I walk into Wal-Mart all the time?). And we wouldn't see all these freaking ads if people -- regular people -- weren't taking the stuff.

Pharmaceutical companies have made a fortune convincing you that drugs exist to improve your life. That's not the point of drugs. Drugs exist to improve sick people's lives. If you aren't sick, you don't need drugs. And let me tell you, major league baseball players are definitely not sick.

If I ran major league baseball, the first thing I would do is drop any affiliation with any drug company. Then I would institute a drug policy in which it is clearly stated for the public which drugs are banned, what those drugs do and why they are banned. You would eliminate a whole lot of confusion and issues with just those two steps.

See? I told you I'd get off topic.

So, anyway, will I get over the Manny Ramirez news? Sure. Will baseball? You bet. Those of you who say you're giving up on baseball? You'll be back. If you really love the game you'll be back. People said they were giving up on the game in 1981. They came back.

I will never turn my back on baseball. Never. Even if the Manny Ramirezes and the Major League Baseball powers-that-be of the world already have.

9 comments:

  1. Corporate pawn is right. Sold soul to devil. Paying now. But I'd disagree that MLB players are like everyone else...they live in a bubble. They're treated differently. We're friends with a famous couple and there is no relationship whatsoever between the life they lead and the life the rest of us lead. It's astonishing. People will do anything for them and get all gaga around them. It's strange to witness. And it's intoxicating. This is part of Manny's problem. Perhaps he can not handle the craziness gracefully and now he thinks the rules don't apply to him.

    As usual you said it very well, and provided plenty of food for further thought. Thanks for always being smart and reasonable.

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  2. Very well said.

    Walk away from baseball? Not I. I love this game too much. I'm pissed off at what some players are turning it into, but everything in life goes in cycles. We'll get past the steroid age just like we got past the strike.

    It may take some time, and there are no Cal Ripkens on the horizon to give the holdouts that push they need to get back into it. But it'll be ok.

    Manny? I don't care. He did something wrong, knowingly or not, and he's man enough to take responsibility for it. I don't respect him for it, but I don't dislike him because of it.

    I'm a Dodger fan, and I think the Dodgers will be ok. Baseball will be ok.

    There are great players in every generation. They come and go, but the game is still here and the game is for the most part unfazed by any single player. It's like a river. You can dump in a thousand gallons of toxins and everything may die. But the river keeps on going, not changing its course and not weakening.

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  3. DC ~

    I meant ballplayers are like everyone else in that they reflect what's going on in society in a lot of ways. Baseball doesn't have a drug problem. Society has a drug problem.

    Ballplayers are regular people with exceptional skills thrust into situations that shape them in ways that we don't experience. I wouldn't say ballplayers aren't like you and me. I'd say the situations they experience aren't like yours and mine. Yeah, that can mess up the less grounded and the superstars. But I've been around enough ballplayers to know that a lot of them are just regular guys.

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  4. I know for me it's going to be rough for a little while to deal with this.

    I can't deal with the people who feel as though it's not a big deal. But even that is so telling in itself.

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  5. Except that baseball's drug problem has the added attraction (due to the corporate/profit motive) of: if you do drugs, you will make more money. Society's regular schmos (sp?) may experience delusions of grandeur if they consume drugs but they don't get More Money, more success, more celebrity. It's a rarefied world o' drugs, the MLB is, and I do think it's worse or at least more complicated for them because there is extra intense temptation.

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  6. Bravo! And don't even get me started on the pharmaceutical industry which in America is allowed to make money off people by convincing them they have a disease they don't have and then selling them a pill for "it." It's time to ban pharmaceutical ads just like they did with tobacco in 1970. You should be prescribed pills by your doctor not your TV set. Just a small part of how capitalism has ruined health care in America. Okay, I feel better now. =)

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  7. Agreed, DC. The baseball/drugs/money combination is a combustible mix that you don't see in regular society. I guess I just hate drawing too thick of a line between regular folks and ballplayers -- us & them -- I think it leads to other issues I don't like (and would rather not get into).

    Jeffrey ~

    Yes. The pharmaceutical industry is scary. I'll leave it at that.

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  8. Not to suggest ballplayers as victims, but I do agree about the intense pressure for guys to do this.

    What I don't appreciate is the sanctimony. We live in such a drug-addled society -- as you've noted -- is it any surprise that sport is knee-deep in it too?

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  9. Ben says there are no Cal Ripkens on the horizon. Harken back just about a month ago to a Sports Illustrated cover that said something like, "Don't be afraid to believe in me."

    I'm a Cardinal fan, but now I really, really hope that's right.

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