Baseball's Juice Stain
After watching his first game of baseball, American poet Walt Whitman made this immortal comment: "I see great things in Baseball, it's our game, the American game, it will repair our losses and improve our spirits." His words have always proven true, especially every spring on Opening Day, when hopes and dreams begin anew on all the Fields of Dreams across the country.
But there remains a deep-seated problem that no one who admires the game wants to face. Fans are willing to move on because the overwhelming love of the game is so powerful that it is easy to pick up the carpet, grab the proverbial broom, and sweep, sweep, sweep!
Baseball may be the one constant, but until the deceits of the steroid abusive seasons are dealt with once and for all, the honor and integrity of America's game will forever be tainted.
In those heady days of steroid use, the '70s and '80s, there were no official rules covering the use of performance-enhancing substances. In those years, stadiums were, for the most part, huge, donut-shaped, hot, and humid edifices that could not be filled. There was the artificial turf that the players hated. And in 1981, after a two-month players strike, thousands of fans vowed not to attend games.
Baseball was losing its charm. Something was needed to renew fan interest along with revenues.
Ted Williams, baseball's greatest hitter, once said that one of the most difficult things to do in all of sport was to stand in a designated confined area with a small stick in your hands and try to hit a white sphere coming at you at 90-plus miles per hour from 60 feet, 6 inches away. Using performance-enhancing substances did not increase a player's reflex time; a batter still has a bit more than a second to react to the pitch. But what those substances did was add great power when contact was made. And then the players discovered exactly what they thought was needed to make things fun again and to go after huge outrageous salaries.
Suddenly, the fans loved the home runs that were leaving the ballparks like cannon shots, and many mediocre pitchers were throwing blazing fast balls and winning games galore. Baseball got its chops back, but it was all false. Players, who one year were small in stature, seemed to, overnight, turn into supermen. Every time Mark McGwire* came to the plate, his arms seemed bigger; the diamond earring that Barry Bonds wore in his left ear appeared smaller each time, as his head physically grew bigger. A Roger Clemens fastball was faster than a speeding bullet. And to make things more interesting, all their personalities grew more and more surly and mean!
The fans loved it. Major League Baseball officials, at first, grew suspicious. They started checking bats to see if they were corked, and even had balls cut in half to see if they were juiced. But in the end, it was obvious that the players were juiced, not the equipment.
It was not until 1991 that baseball put meaningful substance abuse rules on the books. And, after huge battles with the Players Union, baseball finally starting official testing in 2003. Changes in baseball rules have always moved slowly, but Jose Canseco's infamous 2005 book Juiced opened Pandora's box. It was not until the Mitchell Report of 2007* named 86 very prominent names that major-league baseball became very concerned about disciplining abusing players. The 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez, a Los Angeles Dodger, was a clear example of just how serious baseball was in restoring honesty to the game.
Finally, with some behind-the-scenes prodding from President G.W. Bush, the federal government got into the fray. Congressional hearings were held and players were officially subpoenaed. Barry Bonds, deeply involved in the Balco trial connected to the selling of these substances to players, perjured himself in testimony to the Grand Jury, and after 8 years is still on hold regarding his sentence. Roger Clemens sat upright and defiant and lied about everything at the congressional hearings, and will face a second trial for lying to Congress, after a mistrial was declared. McGuire simply refused to answer any questions. He did not lie to Congress; he just did not speak.
Baseball has faced a confusing dilemma in dealing with all this chaos, with no official rules provided for abuse during the period most of these players were active. Whatever meager rules there were, baseball took no action. The false accomplishments of these players thus still are officially recorded in baseball's sacred book of stats and records.
However, there are laws against false testimony and perjury, and therein is the solution for Commissioner Selig. Baseball needs to deal with this matter so that the integrity of the game is restored. But it would not be ethical for Selig to act on these players' records when baseball was very unclear about its rules.
It does no good placing an asterisk beside the names of Bonds, Clemens, McGuire, and all the other cheaters. That meaningless gesture will never make things right. I, for one, do not relish the day I have to explain those asterisks to my grandchildren, telling them how these men were so terribly lacking in the love of truth, lying and cheating through their playing days, and then lying again while under oath!
But if Bonds and Clemens, the only two standouts in all this mess, are found guilty in their trials, that will prove that they lied about using these substances. And those hypothetical convictions should be what the commissioner needs to clean up the records -- not only of these two, but of everyone who broke the rules. Everyone!
Neither Bonds nor Clemens, if convicted, is likely to serve a day behind bars. But if these ego-driven men are able to walk away from their lies and deceit with their records standing, it will have a deeper adverse effect on generations of Americans who pick up a bat and glove and attempt to play and excel at America's game.
Baseball is the one pure thing that America still owns, and the dark cloud of these false records must be removed -- the sooner the better. The NCAA takes action against colleges that cheat, stripping whole championship seasons away from schools found guilty. The Olympics deals with cheaters by stripping away gold medals. Why is baseball any different?
There is one American home run king, and his name is Hank Aaron. And if and when these trials are over, and a guilty verdict is reached, baseball must do the right thing in order to continue to "repair our losses and improve our spirits." Otherwise America's Pastime will be nothing but a big business sham and fraud!
Joseph Di Sante is a devoted fan of baseball, an actor, and a published writer. He resides in Burbank, California.