BASEBALL’S FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW
By Sy Schechtman
A man with a
five o’clock shadow looks sinister, and usually looks much better with a shave to brighten up his
demeanor. Baseball has much the same shadow across
its collective face; the grand
jury investigation into the possible
illegal use of steroids to enhance baseball performance. Several big stars have already admitted their guilt and several have also implicated others. And these
also have admitted their use of steroids well above the normal
prescribed limits. Some have demurred
and have been excused. But the most famous one, Barry Bonds, is still almost noncommittal, insisting that his trainer, who he has absolute
trust in, has supplied him only with flaxseed oil products to control his
arthritic symptoms after ball games.
Never any mention of
steroids. That has been his position
before the grand jury; perjury before which august body is a very serious
offence. (Shades of Bill Clinton
and Monica Lewensky’s DNA stained
dress, which tumbled
And according to leaked testimony into the ongoing federal grand jury steroid abuse situation in major league baseball, major stars such as Jason Giambi and his brother Jeremy, Gary Sheffield, Armando Rios, Benito Santiago and Bobby Estallella have already confessed and implicated Barry Bonds as a known abuser; that the “clear liquid and cream” that Bonds was so innocently using as flaxseed oil were obvious custom made steroid products designed to circumvent conventional testing . The findings of the ongoing secret proceedings of the grand jury are likened to a proverbial “steroid shoe” waiting to be dropped. To most of us, however, the apparent evidence we see is dubious indeed. The suspect men(confessed) and Bonds (non confessed) have bulked them selfs up visibly with muscle that has made them easily several clothes sizes larger. They are almost physically transformed individuals, a phenomenon that only excessive steroid use can rationally explain. And only Bonds insists on his innocence, his naivete, and the miraculous newly acquired brawn of his training regimen and trainer, Greg Anderson, who has spent time in prison already for illegal steroid sales to some of the other athletes previously mentioned.
But not to worry too much now at any rate! The bottom line financially still seems quite positive at the moment. The baseball public is not too perturbed. As of the most recent Forbes magazine annual survey the most valuable sports franchise is the major league New York Yankees, worth about
one point two billion dollars. This despite the fact that they had an operating loss of 25 million last year
because the team had a 200 million dollar payroll
and paid 105 million in revenue
sharing and luxury taxes. But far
outweighing this loss is the record attendance, an increase in
sponsorship and the new stadium being built along side the present one. And baseball’s 29 other teams also made money, generating profits of almost $500 million. And total attendance was a record 76 million
fans. Forbes rated the
Baseball has survived some very serious scandals in the past, too. And the other steroid shoe drop ---a grand jury indictment-- may not have much impact on the vicarious hero worshipping conscience of the average fan, excusing or forgetting past legal or moral infractions. However, back in the early formative baseball days, in the early teens and twenties of the last century, the owners took no chances in the face of a major gambling scandal involving the Chicago White Sox and the world series of l919. Eight White Sox players were involved and confessed, although they were later legally absolved later on when officially brought to trial. But the owners, upset by the bad publicity, appointed a Federal Judge of impeccable integrity-----whose name certainly connoted that feeling---Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He was given almost unlimited power, and was nicknamed, behind his back, as the “Czar”. He was a mixed blessing, however, keeping the game free from the taint of gambling corruption but also instilling his racist anti negro bias and preventing black players entrance into baseball until his retirement. And being very activist on many more levels than the owners would have liked. While the owners continued the practice of a commissioner overseer, the powers delegated to his office were considerably modified after Landis retired.
And that old
devil gambling arose to haunt another baseball commissioner many years later. This
time in the person of Pete Rose,
one of the most talented hitters of all time, with his total of 4,256
hits in his career probably never to be
surmounted. The trouble with
Rose was that he was an inveterate gambler,
and denying this as relating to
his baseball activities. Finally after two private detectives, hired by the
newly appointed commissioner of baseball, Bart Giamatti, came up with the actual betting slips of
Rose’s activities, did Rose grudgingly admit to his incessant gambling. But never on his team, the
Pete Rose is still around and still is trying for some form of baseball immortality in the form of admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame, based on his proven record of accomplishment on the playing field. So far the moral greatness of Bart Giammetti still bars the way.
Which brings us back to Barry Bonds and the other “steroid shoe” And does it matter? There is an apocryphal story of a tearful little boy looking up to shoeless Joe Jackson for his part in the White Sox betting scandal----“Say it’s not true, Joe---please!” Of course, the compromise is always to have these drug contaminated records with asterisks and explanatory foot notes denoting drug enhancement complicity. And it is also factual to understand that drug enhancement is a creeping phenomenon in all of sports; it is a growing problem in track and field and in long distance biking and perhaps in other strength and endurance competitions. But we need not relent if at all possible. Surely steroid and other performance enhancing drugs can be detected with a reasonable amount of due diligence. And as for gambling the Giammatti treatment is still a beacon of hope for us all.
Squeaky clean it may never be, but a durable compromise that we can all uphold must be attained, so that when Casey at the bat for fear old Mudville strikes out with the bases loaded we know it was despairingly real, and that the song “….Take out to the ball game, Take me out to the crowd,….Let me root, root ,root for the home team….If they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out….At the old ball game.” still evokes a true mystique about our national pastime.
And , hopefully, that five o’clock shadow on the face of baseball will be no more.