by Dan Bolles
Those of you who know me personally are likely aware that I'm a bit of a sports nut. It's a passion I rarely indulge in local hipster circles, but if I have to choose between going to Metronome to see a great band or watching a Red Sox - Yankees game at Nectar's, you'll find me downstairs almost every time.
Baseball was my first love. I discovered the pure joy of swatting a small leather ball with a wooden stick long before I paid any attention to girls and years prior to diving into music. From the time I was 6 until I turned 13, all I ever wanted to be was the starting left-fielder for the Sox. Unfortunately, a lack of size and/or any appreciable baseball talent prevented me from living that dream beyond riding the pine in middle school. C'est la vie.
Though my aspirations of becoming a pro ballplayer eventually faded, my adoration of the sport never did. I love baseball at every level, from the sandlot to the majors, so it should come as no surprise that I tuned in for Tuesday's MLB All Star game.
Unless you live in a complete bubble, you're likely aware of the ongoing steroid/HGH controversy currently ravaging professional sports. At the heart of the scandal is San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who is presently 5 home runs away from breaking Henry Aaron's long-standing career mark of 755 and is widely believed to have used performance enhancing drugs to get there. Follow the link at the end of the previous post to learn more.
This year, the mid-summer classic happened to take place in San Francisco — do you think the announcers said anything about the controversy?
Hardly an inning went by that some idiot Fox broadcaster didn't bring it up and boldly put in their two cents on the issue — or Fox's anyway. Since Fox shares broadcasting rights with ESPN, both networks are sleazily trying to gloss over the scandal to create some air of purity around the embattled player's impending achievement — and of course, boost ratings.
While there was no shortage of inanity streaming from the TV, perhaps the most intellectually vapid and morally bankrupt argument came from Ken Rosenthal, who prefaced his entire argument that Bond's record should stand even if he is found guilty of cheating with the cornerstone phrase of Fox News spin tactics: "Some people say . . ."
Rosenthal claims that "some people" say 70 percent of MLB players are, or were, on steroids during Bonds' run for the HR crown. Just which part of Rupert Murdoch's ass did you pull that number from, Ken?
His point was essentially that because so many players were allegedly on drugs — including pitchers — we need to view Bonds in the historical context of the Steroid Era and therefore, it's OK that he cheated.
Bullshit. If everyone jumped off a bridge . . .
Rosenthal's logic is ethically flawed and entirely based on an assumption that's impossible to prove. But he may actually have a point — though it's not the one he was trying to make.
Do we view Babe Ruth's 714 with any less reverence even though he never faced a Black, Hispanic or Asian pitcher? Is Henry Aaron's mark less impressive because it took him nearly 800 more games to do it than Ruth? We routinely give our heroes contextual free passes. Perhaps we should do the same with Bonds. Not as an athlete, but as an entertainer.
Major League Baseball — or any professional sport, really — is entertainment. Fans pay hundreds of dollars per game to see overgrown freaks play a child's game at its highest level. Just like we'll pay through the nose to see drugged out musicians or artificially enhanced movies. When I go to a MLB game, I want to see gargantuan brutes hit baseballs 500 feet. When folks would see Phish, they'd want the band to be as high as they were. Performance-enhancing drugs are not solely the realm of sports and to malign athletes for trying to conform to a climate created by the public's appetite is disingenuous at best.
In 1998, Major League Baseball was on life support after barely surviving a fierce labor dispute. That summer, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's epic home run battle revived a dying game — with the help of performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire has all but admitted as much. A much smaller Sosa returned to the game this year after two seasons of physical breakdowns.
The prolific sluggers' race to break Roger Maris' single-season HR record of 61 wasn't baseball. It was drama and it captivated millions of fans and revitalized the sport. Now, as Barry Bonds nears his own record, the country recoils in horror as it becomes more and more apparent that growing three and a half shoe sizes at the age of 37 just ain't natural. This is a monster we created, folks. Don't act so surprised.
There is no purity left in the game of Major League Baseball and maybe there never was. If you want to see pure hardball, go to a minor league game, or better yet, find a sandlot. And when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's record, tip your cap, 'cuz it's been a good show.