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 Clinton into an impeachment  trial for lying.!)    

          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 New York Mets the second most valuable franchise at $736 million  and the Boston Red Sox at $724 million.    I believe  that the top National Football League team net worth, such as the football Giants, lag somewhat behind these  very impressive figures.   And no drug or gambling scandals seem to loom  on  their horizon.

          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 Cincinnati Reds.   Subsequent editions   of Roses’  autobiography, however,  have amended  that blanket disclaimer.  He now states that while manager of the Reds he always bet on his team,  but only to win.   During  Giamatti’s brief tenure in office he confronted  Rose with the obvious evidence of his betting;   a  deal was arranged  whereby  the extensive record of Rose’ gambling activity  was not revealed (The Dowd Report) and Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from all baseball related activity.    Within a week of this agreement Giammatti died of a massive heart attack; only 154 days into his brief  and aggravating  tenure as commissioner of baseball.   (Previously he had been president of Yale University, capping a brilliant academic career before venturing into the hazardous world of sport  and  Pete Rose,  also known as “Charlie Hustle”).

          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.