Good Morning Vietnam is a terrific movie and the source of numerous quotes any fan can recall at an instant. One of my favorite lines, the biggest gem in the mine, is the following. Adrian Cronauer, when asked by his superior officer what was the significance of “three up and three down” on his uniform, responded:
“End of an inning?”
That’s sort of how I feel about steroids. In a slow time for baseball (no, the possible destinations of Johnny Damon does not count as news), there came the shocking (shocking I tell you!!) admission from Mark McGwire that yes, he did in fact use steroids. Did you jump up and down in anger? Scream “I told you so!” to the TV? Did you, Cardinals fans, quietly mumble “I want my summer of ’98 back…”? Or was your response somewhat similar to my own:
Perusing the internet for a while on the subject leads to one of two kinds of articles, mostly. Sure there is the occasional rant about how McGwire “cheated the game” or some such nonsense. But for the most part people were either saying “Duh – of course he did” or “Why is he admitting this now?”
It’s that second question that intrigues me. Yeah, I get it. Steroids are bad. They mess up your body, causing everything from shrinking testicles and baldness to high blood pressure and liver tumors. In children steroids can stunt muscular and skeletal growth. Yep, they’re bad. But doesn’t it seem odd that McGwire would lie to Congress about using steroids, but tell the truth just as he is about to get another job in baseball (as the Cardinals’ hitting coach)?
Why do we care so much about baseball players taking them? What about football players? Shawn Merriman got a four game suspension for testing positive – he’s an all-star caliber player, and not many people even remember that he tested positive. Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero and Mark McGwire, on the other hand, are seen as sports demons, the personification of evil in athletics. I believe that part of this outrage is the hallowed baseball statistics – no one gives a crap about Guillermo Mota testing positive, because no one has any idea who he is. But McGwire? Saved baseball after labor strife and broke the single-season home run record, a record that has been romanticized in sports as perhaps the greatest record in athletics (a status once reserved for the heavyweight champion of the world in boxing, but I digress). So that romance is shattered, stolen by a cheating liar. Maybe the other part is that baseball players have not expressed extreme remorse over their actions. No hypocrisy there at all – as Rob Neyer so eloquently points out.
I suppose I simply am a terrible person for lacking the proper moral outrage for McGwire’s actions. I just can’t. There’s an old baseball adage goes something like “If you ain’t cheatin’ then you ain’t tryin’”. Despite the fact that apparently they did not know how to speak the King’s English when this adage was first spoken, which is sure to spark Some Guy’s ire, it has endured. Why now is the ubiquitous cheating an intolerable stain in baseball? Like Neyer says, pretty much all of us would have done the same thing. In my view, it’s like being morally outraged by the thief who steals bread for his starving family, among an entire cadre of theives.
When it was first revealed that steroids were a prevalent part of baseball some said the game as we knew it was at an end. That was nonsense. The history of the game of baseball is like a game itself, and the steroid era was a bad inning. But it wasn’t the LAST inning. Hopefully as more information is made public about steroid use we will see an end of the fear-mongering and moral outrage spewed by media types. Hopefully, eventually, we will see the steroid inning in our pasttime's legacy come to a close, as if a Mariano Rivera cutter caught the inside corner for strike three.