In the fall of 1990, I went to see a Twins-Royals game in the Homer Dome. Do I need to mention that the Royals were not contending for a playoff spot? They weren't, and neither were the Twins. There were approximately 1000 people there, but the rare assortment of players on the field has made the game stick in my memory. Royal legend George Brett was locking down a batting title in a third decade. Bo Jackson was about to play his last baseball game at full strength. And Kirby Puckett was in his prime, smiling, clowning, and inspiring even the Royals fans (me and my friends) among the crowd to cheer for him.My friends and I had an entire left-field section to ourselves, and the Metrodome's infamous acoustics combined with the absence of people provided my friend Adlai with a rare opportunity to ensure that Twins fan favorite Dan Gladden heard his every comment about his mullet. It also afforded us an opportunity to hear Kirby clowning around with people in the center field bleachers. At that point, no one could argue that Puck was anything but a great guy. He was fun; the Twins were good; the Twins infamously fair-weather fans didn't really seem to appreciate him at that moment, but he didn't let it get to him.A little over a year later, his heroics would propel the Twins to another World Series championship, and his leaping Game 6 catch, combined with the game-winning dinger, would comprise one of the great all-time clutch performances. Everything after that seemed out of character. At this point, this seems even more remarkable than it did then. Seriously, who else is going to pull that off? Todd Helton in 2011? Maybe, but not likely.
I was just watching ESPN's Opening Day coverage of the Braves-Dodgers game, and the conversation between commentator Erik Karros (wasn't he Rookie of the Year like 5 years ago?) and Rick Sutcliffe turned to steroids. Karros couldn't contain himself. He blustered and rambled for a while, criticizing those who demanded an investigation, and basically rehashed Mark McGwire's non-denial denial to a Senate sub-committee: Steroids were abused in the past; the league has adopted a stricter policy; let's all move on. The message was unoriginal — a lot of current players don't want to dwell on this unsavory development — but the air of defensiveness mixed with disdain seemed oddly reminscent of another guilty, defiant person — Donald Rumsfeld.Anyway, over the past couple of days, I tore through Game of Shadows, the recently published steroids expose by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. After a month of PR build-up and published excerpts, there weren't many surprises:
- Bonds availed himself of steroids. One might say, a buttload of steroids.
- So did Marion Jones.
- They're both liars.
- So are a lot of professional athletes.
Bonds is the big story in Game of Shadows. If you couldn't already tell by his cartoonishly swollen neck/head and his late-career power explosion, Bonds hasn't been playing fair. He admitted to a grand jury that he allowed his trainer (a known juicer) to place droplets of an "unknown" chemical under his tongue, and to rub an "unknown" cream on his joints. Bonds thought that these were legal supplements — the drops were "flaxseed oil" — yeah, he actually said that — and he implied that he'd never injected anything. Uh-huh, yeah. I'm a fan of the flaxseed oil, and I can testify that it doesn't make your head become like 5x bigger. Plus, Bonds has always been a control freak. Is it even remotely possible that he didn't bother finding out what his trainer was sticking in his mouth?The book reveals the Bonds was on a steroid regimen that included more than "flaxseed oil," making it seem even more likely that Bonds perjured himself in front of the grand jury. Sources close to him indicate that he was on all sorts of injectable crap, including Decadurabolin (in the butt) and human growth hormone (in the stomach). He wanted us to believe that it was all free weights and sprints and vitamins, but it makes a little more sense that there was some secret sauce in the mix.A personal note: Barry, dude, seriously. Just freakin admit it. You're like a little kid sitting in a pile of cookie crumbs, crying and claiming that you didn't eat any cookies. It's undignified, really. Say "I took steroids because I wanted to win, because everyone else was, because it's what I had to do." Fans understand competitiveness, and you're a competitive guy, and steroids weren't against the rules anyway. So just fess up, you big baby. At some point, you could even ask for our forgiveness. I mean, it's possible. You always claim that you're not given the respect you deserve. Here's your chance to earn it.
I watch so much SportsCenter that I figured I'd try to chronicle the non sequitors that they use to punctuate excellent sports moments.
- Three beers apiece for my co-workers – While high-fives among teammates are being exchanged. Derivation: Shawshank Redemption
- What's on the grill? — Punctuates the moment when someone, usually Dwayne Wade, dunks in someone else's face, i.e. "Jason Collins, what's on the grill?"
- Pay for my dry cleaning! — Accentuated a Vince-Carter-administered NBA playoff dunk. Derivation: SNL
- Bartender! Johnny Walker Red. — Highlight involving the Cincinnati Reds.
- _____ has powers comparable to Wonderboy! — Fill in the blank with any player who is about to do something amazing in the highlight reel. Derivation: Tenacious D.
- That's levitation, homes. — Dunk that could otherwise be described with the words "helicopter," "windmill," or "tomahawk," or any dunk by Vince Carter or Andre Igoudala in the month of December 2005. Derivation: Tenacious D.
- Bartender! Canadian Club. — used in conjunction with the Blue Jays, Raptors, or any Canadian NHL team.
- Get to the chopper! — Variously applied, e.g. Albert Pujols has just hammered the crap out of the ball and is beginning to trot around the bases; Ben Wallace has completely plastered an opponent's dunk attempt and is sprinting back downcourt, where he receives an alley-oop from Chauncey Billups and throws it down in some guy's face; Julius Peppers has just sprinted 20 yards in approximately 1.5 seconds in order to light up a quarterback. Derivation: Predator
- Bartender! Shot of Jack. — This, I think, was the original "Bartender" exclamation. Usually used in connection with a homerun.
- Bartender! Cuba Libre — Introducing any story involving Cuba during the World Baseball Classic.
- Kill me, I'm here! — General exclamation. I've only heard this one once, and it accompanied a hockey highlight. Derivation: Predator
- That's it and that's all. — Usually to punctuate a player's execution of a coup de grace, e.g. "Allen Iverson's three in the closing seconds puts the Sixers up for good. That's it and that's all." Derivation: Lil Sis
- (Always in progress)
The Baseball Hall of Fame is filled with guys who cheated, played dirty, were terrible role models, drunks, jerks, domestic abusers, the list goes on. If any of these things disqualified players from eligibility, guys like Gaylord Perry & Whitey Ford (cheaters), Mickey Mantle (a great guy, but a drunk), Ty Cobb (a jerk) and many, many more would have been denied entry.With the exception of the Pete Rose affair, history has ruled that only two things matter when it comes to HOF criteria: statistical milestones and World Series rings. And for Rose, all would likely be forgiven if he would suck it up and apologize.In another few years, we'll add some more characters to the Hall's rogue gallery — the juicers. One of them will be Rafael Palmeiro, who testified before Congress that he had never taken steroids. Palmeiro punctuated his testimony with finger-jabs at the assembled Congresspeople, a gesture that now seems oddly similar to the technique used by Jose Canseco to inject steroids into Palmeiro's butt. Yesterday, Palmeiro was exposed as a juicer, and the NYT reported that he used the real stuff rather than some super-charged multi-vitamin:
Palmeiro said Monday that he had never intentionally taken steroids, but stanozolol does not come in dietary supplements and is among the most popular steroids on the market. It can be ingested or injected and usually remains in a person's system for at least a month."It's a mildly strong to strong steroid," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at New York University who is an expert in sports doping. "Potent is the word I would use."
Palmeiro will be joined by at least three other juicers in the Hall: McGwire, Bonds and Sosa. I don't begrudge these guys. They definitely weren't the only juicers in the game, and they would have been great players without the 900-foot moon-shots. On the other hand, I think that the Hall should find a way to express and interpret the unsavory side of baseball: Induct Raffy and rest (Rose, especially), and set up a section of that constructively discusses and contextualizes the behaviors and achievements of those players who sought extra-curricular assistance.Baseball's good guys probably don't lose any sleep over this, but I still think that the Hall should find a way to distinguish guys like Robin Yount & Mike Schmidt (and in the future, Greg Maddux & Tony Gwynn). They deserve to be recognized as fair players in times when players sought unfair advantages.