Tuesday, March 4, 2008

steroids? here's something to fuss about with baseball

David Joseph in the WSJ...

Baseball is, of course, the national pastime....Its preservation isn't so much a choice as a responsibility.

And so the furor over whether Roger Clemens was injected with human growth hormone has inspired fresh demands that we take this responsibility seriously. From a congressional hearing to a possible Justice Department investigation, we feel a duty to eradicate the stain.

Still, the outrage over performance-enhancing drugs in baseball is somewhat misdirected....And despite what baseball wants us to believe, it isn't about cheating either. Gaylord Perry, notorious for his spitball, is still revered, as is the legendary Ty Cobb, he of the sharpened cleats, by baseball historians and aficionados. And more people would likely open Baseball's Hall of Fame to Pete Rose than would shut him out.

This goose chase is about something else altogether. This is all about the records.

Of all the sports in America, baseball boasts the records fans cherish the most. Numbers like 61, 755, 56, and .406 have been burned into our brains, embedded alongside dates like 1776, Dec. 7, 1941 and 9/11....With this merger into the fabric of America has come a sense of ownership, and these records now seem to belong, not only to the men who established the marks, but to all of us....

The reality is those numbers weren't so hallowed in the first place, as they were notched into the record books at a time when some of the best players were relegated to the Negro Leagues. Without being able to account for what these players might have leant to the game and what they might have contributed to the record books, we aren't in any position to get so worked up about "records" being broken....

Because in the end, it is just one error in a sea of many that have pocked the landscape of Major League Baseball since its inception. It isn't any worse than the Black Sox, cocaine and amphetamines, spitballs, pine tar, corks, scuffing, gun arrests, labor strikes or betting on your own team.

If you want something to get fuming about, be mad that more people know Kirk Gibson than Josh Gibson, a star catcher in the Negro Leagues who was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in the 1970s. Shake your head that Derek Bell is more of a household name than Cool Papa. And if you really want to feel ashamed, just think of how sad it is that we have already spent more time discussing the prospect of keeping Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame than we did when Buck O'Neil failed to be inducted.

I love baseball for the artistry of Willie Mays, the precision of Joe DiMaggio, the ferocity of Ty Cobb, the raw power of Mickey Mantle, the incomparable courage of Jackie Robinson. But hallowed? Save that for churches.


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