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.