The Old Ball Game Was Never Pure

John McGraw (in black) gets ready for his Giants to square off against the Athletics in Game One of the 1905 World Series. Muggsey already had $400 in even money down on his Giants.

The exoneration of Roger Clemens in his second perjury trial this week reminded me again of how much we hypocritically condemn those who have even had their reputations smeared for things that a hundred years ago would not have even caused a bug-eyed glare. Personally, I have no idea if Roger ever used steroids, but I do know that a jury found him innocent of lying to Congress by his denials of same – and I would love to believe him – and add to that: Don’t keep a worthy candidate out of the Hall of Fame for reasons that add up to little more than full character assassination.

There is no proof of anything else.

Besides, steroids don’t give a batter the ability to hit a baseball. They just supply the strength to hit it farther, converting ordinary homers to Ruthian clouts and, sometimes, lifting ordinary fly ball outs beyond the fence for home runs.For pitchers, steroids don’t cause a ball to curve more, but we are given to believe that they may help pitchers to work longer or heal faster from the normal wear and tear of pitching. Should quick healing be indicted as a crime against the record book. What if we come up with a medicine someday that would allow a starting pitcher to work more often without risk of permanent injury or contraindicative side effects? Should we ban the substance to save the continuity of our record books?

Or should we simply send out a warning to Cy Young? “Hey, Cy! Watch out! The robotic arms of 21st century pitchers are coming for you!”

Back in 1905, John McGraw bet $400 on his Giants to defeat the Athletics in the first official World Series that had been agreed upon as an annually automatic contest between the champions of the National and American leagues. Pete Rose apparently bet on his Reds club fairly regularly in the 1980s.

Nothing was said to McGraw about his betting. His club won the 1905 World Series behind three shutouts by ace Christy Mathewson and McGraw found his way quickly in later years to the Hall of Fame. – Rose, on the other hand, got creamed for betting on baseball and for lying about it for years. As a result of his actions, Pete Rose, the all time hit total leader was effectively excommunicated from baseball and banned from the Hall of Fame, a condition that continues to this day.

When you ban some people and overlook others, for essentially doing the same thing, but in different eras of permissiveness and prohibition, you essentially alter the record book by making that distinction. Either let everyone into the HOF whose playing records merit their mention, or else, go through the ranks of current members and kick out the ones whose behavior matches up with those who are now prohibited. And then just treat the thing as the “Good Boys’ Hall of Fame,” a place where career and character are both important to induction.

The baseball sub-culture, like society itself, has never been perfect nor is it likely to become so.

We will continue to chemically progress in the ways we treat injuries and illness to the body, and our ability to prolong the physical capacity of youth is likely to keep increasing as well.

The so-called war on drugs has become nothing more than a bee line for making some of the meanest people in the world nasty rich –  and it has provided a bureaucratic vested interest in many officials that serves to keep alive a war that will never be won – simply because it keeps alive the careers of the forever chasing good guys.

After a half century in my day job, and more than a little time back in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the administrative director of one of the earliest drug treatment programs in America, I say it’s time we stop the war and legalize the production and use of drugs in a way that takes their delivery out of criminal hands and places it in controlled production for sale to those who choose to use them in cheaper, safer form.

And while we are also disarming that one big chapter in societal hypocrisy, This is where I stand in 2012 and where I shall continue to stand: I favor attacking others too, including the steroid proven or tainted bunch with great career records. Let’s induct Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, and their earlier gambling sinning brothers, Rose and Shoe Joe.

The face of the Hall might not be as pretty, if we did, but it would sure be a lot more complete.

 

 

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One Response to “The Old Ball Game Was Never Pure”

  1. Mark Says:

    Just got around to reading this. We’re far apart on this one, Bill.

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