THE GROWN UP BOYS OF BASEBALL [ archive ]

5 Jan

They are hard to miss, the boys of summer, grown men wearing business coats topped with baseball caps for their team of choice still little boys dreaming of homeruns and balls hit out of the park. Some of them grow up to be fans, living vicariously through baseball cards and autographs they collect, games they once watched, players they once met, and players they look up to for being men that made “the dream” happen.

Once-upon-a-childhood-game stars are slipping away from baseball’s horizon of its beginnings. Few fans attended Union Station’s DC Lottery sponsored exhibit of the historic Negro League. “Bud” was there as were just enough handshakes to make him feel remembered. Sad as it is, Willie Mays has transitioned from being a name on children’s lips to becoming an Ebay icon. Mickey Mantle is someone some dads still talk about, if they are old enough to remember. With all-time-records on the “Field of Dreams” smashed, men who built the foundation of the game played today, are eclipsed by illegal drugs one man admitted to. His peers, owners of World Series rings, sitting down the table from the author of the tell-all book, “Juiced,” at a Congressional hearing, denied use of steroids, one- emphatically, another said he wanted the past to be just that, past.

Days before, news photos showed turf being laid at RFK Stadium in the District. Baseball was back on the front lawn of the Capitol after a three decade hiatus. Rumor ran the President would toss out the ball at the opening game. Or Eleanor Holmes Norton, a third generation Washingtonian, an 8 term Congresswoman for the District of Columbia, one of the 100 most important woman in American history. The one place she was not, was in the room, it seemed the world wanted to get into, Room 2154, the House Government Reform Committee room in Rayburn building in Washington, DC. While lines formed outside, she was scurrying up and down the halls of the Capitol on Thursday, working.

People stood shoulder to shoulder for hours hoping to be one of the lucky ones to enter the room where four of baseballs heavy hitters were scheduled as witnesses to testify. When the hearings began, House members gushed their love of game, what it meant to them since they were kids collectors of cards and such. The representatives seats were filled. Staffers stood or kneeled nearby, quite a contrast to the UNWRA hearings discussing the “Food For Oil” thefts. 90% of that hearing room’s seats were empty. Something to be said about celebrity as a drawing card in mall stores and Congress.

Floor and sidewalls were packed with media from around the world. Photographers sat three deep in front of the witness table for Session Three. Sessions 1,2 and 4, one could have thrown a knuckleball down the aisle and hit no one. Session 1 was the testimony of Senator Jim Bunning, Republican, Kentucky, a Hall of Fame pitcher who played for Detroit and Philadelphia.

Session 2 was more of the same. Session 4, was where Commissioner Bud Selig and the union’s executive director, Don Fehr, spoke. As predicted by the Media handlers, when Session 4 rolled around, photographers and video crews would not need to follow rotation. The place was empty, missing Selig testifying to the committee, “We’ve told the union that we are going to suspend the players and their names will be made public. And our owners voted 30-0 in favor of it.” The first offense calls for a suspension of 10 days or up to a $10,000 fine, said Davis, reading from draft documents of the policy provided by MLB. Bunning had testified Major League Baseball’s new drug policies “are pretty puny.”

Session 3 was the celebrities. Sitting, hearing left to right, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling. Once upon a time, these grown up baseball players were boys of summer. But that was many years ago when they played little league and sandlot as 9 year olds. Looking at Canseco’s tear framed eyes, it was hard to believe he once played a game, echoed by little boys and girls, backside of Rayburn, in the parks of DC, a family way of Little League, plastic trophies and dreams that brought this towering man to admit, to do better, to keep up, to make box office, he broke laws he was called to the Hearing to tell about.

The players’ prowess had matured them into highly profiled and paid athletes, so they told their fans. Now they were accountable as role models using performance enhancing drugs influencing youth. They don’t want to be role models, they say, just play ball. Unfortunately, the same media sitting before them on the floor and behind them in the seats, made them that way. Not once did they complain about World Series rings and high profile lifestyles, wives and opportunities to pursue so called reality TV shows as their peers are pursuing, vignettes into what it is like to drive a fancy car, live in a big house with a drop dead gorgeous woman, credited to their super-athletic achievements.

The Committee seemed blindered to the performance enhancing drug of tomorrow, already out there or under development. The drug on the Congressional table was steroids.

Curt Schilling asked, and was granted, special favour to enter the hearing room prior to the proceedings. Before being placed under oath, Mr. Schilling read his statement then proceeded to leave. Things run differently in Hearing Rooms then they do on the baseball field. Players do what Congressmen tell them not the Commissioner. Schilling and his companion were escorted back to the witness table. Each witness was allowed three chairs, one for themselves, attornies, it seemed, filled the other two.

The other players entered the room in order of their seat designation, Palmeiro, McGwire, Sosa and Canseco. Canseco’s eyes were oddly red, circumstance of the hearing being drug use. Maybe big men do cry, shattering urban myth. Canseco, under oath, was clear he could not testify because of charges pending against him. Sosa’s statement was read, media were told, by his attorney media were told to expect an interpreter,  a story of his childhood passion for a game he grew to profit in. Sosa, then, quite eloquently in English, told the Commission, he will support their endeavors. McGwire, Canseco’s former teammate on the Oakland A’s, was tearful addressing the sport he retired from. He refused to name names to the Committee, “My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family or myself. I intend to follow their advice.” The first player in history to hit 70 home runs, said, “I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to be positive and talk about the present and the future.”

Palmeiro, angered at being accused of taking steroids in Canseco’s tell-all-book-about-baseball, punched his forefinger at the Commission. “I never used steroids. Period.” “I don’t know how to say it more clearly than that. Never. The reference to me in Mr. Canseco’s book is absolutely false.”  Schilling, the took his oath to tell the truth, admitted nothing but said, “I am saddened that the media and others have chosen to focus on the names in the book rather than the real culprit behind the issue.” “MLB did nothing to take it out of the sport. Baseball owners and the players’ union … turned a blind eye to the clear evidence of steroid use in baseball.”

McGwire repeatedly refused to say if drugs fuelled his prodigious home runs that brought interest back to the beleagured sport. He and Sosa were widely credited with restoring baseball’s popularity when they chased Roger Maris’ season record of 61 homers, 1998. McGwire ended with 70, a mark that lasted three seasons. Then, San Francisco Giants, Barry Bonds, hit 73.

Coaches accused of telling two young men to take steroids were not called to the hearing to testify. The whipping boys for the societal failure one father alluded to, where the wealthy strangers their sons looked up to as role models.

“Drug-Free Kids: America’s Challenge” president Joyce Nalepka provided media with a handout titled “Hang up the drugs or hang up the uniform” which included an explanation single parents “and parents with two jobs leave children with too much unsupervised time,” also citing a recent student-led meeting in McLean, Virginia with a recurring theme “Where are all the adults?” Witness Donald Hooton of Plano, Texas, son, Taylor, hanged himself when he was 17. Taylor, a baseball player, used steroids. Another father and mother testified at how their son’s coach told him, as tall and cut as he was, he wasn’t big enough for sports, leading the young man’s foray into steroids, eventually fatally shooting himself, age 24. A bereaved, related to a Cub’s player, said he and his wife could not recognize the effects steroids was having on their son. They knew he was taking illegal drugs. As did the boy’s doctor. As did they all know that playing well, no matter how artificially supported, could mean scholarship, college awards and even one day the fame and fortune the four men being called before the Congress have. Somehow, greed and loss of the real American dream, growing up to be like Dad, was left out of the equation as to why society supports this drug.

Kevin, 48 years old cab driver from South East DC, did not testify at the Hearings on the Hill. He was driving his cab on the streets trying to make ends meet. Himself a boy of summer, his opinion balances testimony from the stars. “Why wasn’t Bond’s there?” he asked during the cab ride from 1st to 14th Street, demanding to know why a black role model was not called up to set an example for the youth he lives amongst. “You had a white man, Hispanic but why no black man? Barry Bonds,” he said, “owes it to the black youth of today to teach them about sports without drugs,”  referencing Bond’s claim he did not know what he was using steroids because it was given to him. Kevin suggested blacks were left out of the opportunity to become a rainbow of leaders for youthful athletes because blacks may have called race into the issue as a negative rather than a chance to make a difference. “I don’t hear my friends asking this question when we talk. It’s just my thoughts.” Kevin wanted to know why Hank Aaron, the man voted 14th-best athlete of century, is silent on steroids. “Too quiet,” for Kevin’s tastes, he said, wanting Hank Aaron to speak out against the men who smashed his records, suggesting the brotherhood of the game is more important than its integrity. Aaron hammered his way into the record book for knocking in the most runs (2,297), total bases (6,856) and extra-base hits (1,477). The only player to hit at least 30 homers in 15 seasons, 20 homers in 20 seasons, he hit at least 40 homers eight times, with a career-best of 47. Aaron, the first player to reach 3,000 hits and 500 homers, led the National League in homers and RBI four times each and played in 24 All-Star Games. Kevin thinks Aaron should lead the fight against steroids. 6 foot tall, 190 pounds, Aaron was not a heavy man. Key to his cracking the ball like a buggy whip was his wrists. Powerful. Supple. “Without steroids,” Kevin said, Aaron’s records might still stand and he would still be one of the greatest players of all times. “Wish Aaron would tell kids they aren’t records if it is drugs that make the records happen.”

 

Sgt. Shaft and Jack had a different spin on the day. They want Hall of Famer Ted William’s back. William’s body is at Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryogenics lab in Phoenix, Arizona. William’s son from a second marriage put him there, frozen, headless, waiting to be brought back to life or, in the least, sell his DNA, if his body doesn’t rot first. The wishes of the Splendid Splinter, the last major leaguer to bat over .400 in a season, dead at age 83, was to be cremated. William’s daughter is fighting to do just that, give the cleanup hitter who holds the Cadillac of baseball records who retired to a life of fishing, peace at last.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Guess,” Kevin said, “the best thing to happen to baseball is the Congressmen and Senators getting a team,”  the day before media publicised the suggestion National’s team players aught to wear patches stating the District’s motto, “Taxation Without Representation.” Better yet, maybe the uniforms should pay homage to Willie Nelson’s song “Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys, don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such…” Or maybe, Ted Williams, the itinerant gentleman, ought to be brought back to life, the first cryonics revival attempt being by 2040 or 2050, if baseball can survive steroids and scandal until then.   DNA, anyone…..

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: