This October, the Boston Red Sox treated sports fans across the nation, winning a dramatic and improbable World Championship. Though not a Red Sox fan, it was hard for me not to get caught up in the magic of those games. I remembered for the first time in years the memories of a childhood spent with the game of baseball, watching from blue plastic seats heroes like Trammell, Whitaker and Gibson play on the immaculate lawn at the corner of Michigan and Trumbell.
I grew up a baseball fan, but I don’t watch baseball anymore.
I became a fan because of players like Trammell, Whitaker and Gibson. I stopped because of players like Canseco, Caminiti, Sheffield and Bonds. These men, comically disproportioned freaks belting home runs out of ballparks at improbable rates, make the transgressions of Pete Rose look tame.
On Friday, The San Francisco Chronicle released testimony implicating several of these names in the federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or BALCO. Five current and former Major League Baseball players — Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Armando Rios, Benito Santiago and Bobby Estalella — all admitted to investigators that they had taken steroids. Gary Sheffield, the current Yankees first baseman and American League most valuable player runner-up, testified that he had taken steroids, but didn’t know at the time what they were.
Most notably, the article ran the testimony of Barry Bonds — the man on the verge of breaking the most coveted record in sports, the mark for career home runs. Not only does this testimony confirm the slugger’s dubious ties to BALCO and a number of its most prominent clients, but Bonds makes a similar admission as Sheffield — that he unknowingly took steroids supplied to his trainer by BALCO. With that, what ESPN analyst Peter Gammons dubbed baseball’s “dirty little secret,” has turned into a full-blown scandal.
Dirty little secret? Try dirty little reality.
This, the knowledge that some of baseball’s best were using illegal substances, is no secret. Over the years, insiders — coaches and team officials — have watched their 180-pound players bulk up to freakish proportions and said nothing, so long as they continued to produce at the plate.
Over the years, an increasingly self-righteous and self-important sports media, with its insider access and sources, couldn’t help but overhear the whispers of impropriety. Admissions from former players like Jose Canseco. Players like Jason Giambi, afflicted with mystery ailments sounding eerily similar to the side affects of steroid use. Players like Barry Bonds with hat sizes that had visibly increased several times over their playing careers. The media had to know something was wrong, but either out of a lack of evidence or a lack of conviction, said little.
And the fans knew. They knew that many of the men playing in their ballparks were cheaters of the lowest order. The fans knew, but still kept buying the tickets, hot dogs and boxes of cracker jack that fed the beast.
Secrets are skeletons in the closet.
This is an elephant in the room.
Saturday, the teams, the media and the fans were quick to distance themselves publicly from the players implicated in the story.Newspapers nationwide were filled with the writings of outraged pundits, acting surprised even though little of the testimony in the report should have genuinely surprised them.
The whole mess reminds me of a story I once heard about three umpires. Debating among themselves over what is the best way to tell the difference between a ball and a strike, the first umpire says “I call ’em as I see ’em.” The second says, “I call ’em as they are.”
Admittedly, I’ve never thought it wise to be casual with the prescription of guilt and innocence. Bonds and all the others deserve due process, but in the court of my own opinion, I don’t need sworn testimony and a mountain of circumstantial evidence to know a cheater when I see one.
Call ’em as you see ’em.
Call ’em what they are.
Adams can be reached at email@example.com.