Friday, June 09, 2006

Flesh for Fantasy

Game 57 – Red Sox

Red Sox 9, Yankees 3
Record: 34-23

It’s been pointed out to me that my previous post was perhaps a bit premature in its timing and overly gloomy in its tone, and while I’ll cop to just a bit of dramatic license, my basic premise is unchanged even after the Sox’ relatively easy win last night. The fact that the Sox couldn’t make hay against the Yankees this week and over the past several bums me out.

That said, it’s a long season, and the recent announcement that Gary Sheffield will undergo wrist surgery and join Hideki Matsui on the sidelines until at least September clouds things for New York, at least until they go buy someone to take his place. As a fan who remembers Nomar Garciaparra’s travails with a wrist injury, I’d be more than surprised if Sheffield contributes in any meaningful way this year.

The elephant in the room (who, coincidentally, is slightly smaller than Jason Giambi) is tapping me on the shoulder and whispering something in my ear. The timing of Sheff’s injury and decision to undergo surgery is, shall we say, interesting in light of the Jason Grimsley investigation. That’s former New York Yankee Jason Grimsley, who appears to be the first of allegedly many major league baseball players prepared to drop HGH-laden dimes on their colleagues and indict the sport in general in an effort to save their own acne-pocked hides.’s Will Leitch, a professed and rabid Cardinal fan, posted a report yesterday, offering educated speculation that one of the redacted names mentioned in Grimsley’s affidavit is Chris Mihlfeld, a Kansas City-based strength training guru. Mihlfeld has worked with numerous big leaguers, but is most publicly associated with Cardinal star Albert Pujols, he of the (perhaps soon to be shed) reputation as baseball’s best clean player. Back to the bugaboo of coincidence – Pujols' recent oblique injury on the heels of his defense of Barry Bonds and right before the Grimsley allegations surfaced…well, that’s one of those things that make you go hmmmm.

We haven’t spent a lot of time on the performance enhancement issue in these pages, with the notable exception of Whit’s excellent rebuttal of a farcically absurd New Yorker piece (and my occasional sniping at Giambi). Having not spoken to Whit about this in great detail, I’ll speculate that we’ve stayed away from the issue because we’re both still idealists at heart – as people as well as baseball fans – and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we still don’t want to believe that the game is fundamentally unfair at the moment.

It’s that fundamental sense of fairness that gets to the heart of the matter for me, and I think for Whit, as well. I’m easily offended by the callous and hypocritical kabuki dance in which the rich and powerful in our society preach fairness and opportunity on one hand and give each other tax breaks while bankrupting schools and entitlement programs on the other. Performance enhancing drugs in baseball are an extension of that hypocrisy, as players in pursuit of the life-altering benefits of extraordinary wealth are blinded to the ethical sinkhole into which they plunge. The ones who lose out aren’t the fans, really (because, as the commercial says, chicks dig the longball), but those who choose to play by the rules, the innocent in the midst of this jungle of avarice.

What’s the big deal, Pollyanna? I know that’s your question. The players who cheat aren’t really hurting anyone, except perhaps themselves, right? Left unsaid in the midst of nearly all of the Great Steroid Debates of the 21st Century is the fact that 99.9% of performance enhancing drugs used by professional athletes are used in direct contravention of the laws of this nation. Let me say that slowly and clearly for the benefit of Joe Morgan: the users of performance enhancing drugs are morally and ethically wrong because they are breaking the fucking law.

Bringing this back home, I’d be an idiot at best, and the most egregious sort of homeric hypocrite if I said the Sox were untarnished by the reach of this scandal. No current Sox players have been the subject of real scrutiny, but Jeremy Giambi used to play in Boston, and Trot Nixon’s physique has been an interesting study over the past few years. I could probably make a few more semi-informed speculations, but I’ll leave the distanced diagnoses to Dr. Frist. The unfortunate point is that they’re all tarnished by association until baseball and the union come to their senses and realize the extent of the reputational damage they’ve incurred.

I’m on a bit of a soapbox this morning, so forgive me my ranting. At net, baseball’s well and truly fucked. The first rule of crisis management is to control the message regarding a bad situation, get your story out on your own terms and make a full accounting of the issue so you can move on. Bud and the boys have been so afraid of their employees and the possible fallout of a full-blown scandal that they’ve cowered behind any artifice they could find to avoid coming clean. I think the next 6 months will see a landslide of bombshells (how do you like that mixing of metaphors? I considered “firestorm of earthquakes”, too.) that will rock the game back until it has no choice but to initiate sports’ most invasive, most punitive drug testing policy. And I think it’ll ultimately make baseball the cleanest and fairest of all major sports, for at least as long as it takes for the chemists to get ahead of the testers once again.

Oh, and you guys in the NFL’s front offices would be awfully wise to replace those knowing smirks with something approximating fearful grimaces, ‘cause this bell is tolling for you next.

No comments: