I am not a fan of Bud Selig, for many, many reasons, most of which have to do with him looking like the sort of sourpuss who would gladly call the cops on a house party because the noise-level was keeping him from making his 6:30 p.m. bedtime. I'm sure he's not ill-intentioned, and maybe he really is doing what he thinks is best for the integrity of the game, but I just can't escape the feeling that he's the sort of joyless lump who would probably steal my baseball if I accidentally hit it into his yard.
Selig wants to crack down on the PED issue. I get it. I get where he's coming from. He's probably just as tired as the rest of us with seeing this issue float up, turd-like, the surface, and he's the commissioner, for crying out loud. Who else is going to fix the problem so we can all just get back to enjoying the game? I'm sure he's feeling the pressure.
But from a fan's vantage point, Selig is part of the problem, precisely because he stole my baseball when I hit it into his yard. Bud, for the love of Buddha, lighten up! When has "cheating" (I prefer the more politically correct, "finding an edge") not been a part of baseball?
Ever since Noah got off the Ark and threw the first spit-ball (look it up, it's in the Old Testament book of Consternations, chapter 4), finding ways to gain an advantage - legitimately or otherwise - has been as much a part of baseball's beating heart as wanting to fire the team's manager (usually because of 3-1 bunt decisions). Think about it. Corked bats. Spit-balls. Pitchers wearing tattered, extra-bleached white sleeves to mask their release points. Spiking the second baseman. Sending a midget up to the plate to draw a walk. Batters who crowd the plate. Scuffing the ball. Stealing signs. The pitcher's bluff-to-third, throw-to-first move - oh, right, that's illegal now too.
Baseball is as much about the rules of the game as it is about the creative ways that players find to break those rules and not get caught. Does anyone remember the incident with Albert Belle's corked bat, and the "Mission Impossible" script that unfolded in 1994? Belle was suspected of using a corked bat, and so his bat was confiscated and locked up in the umpires' dressing room in the 1st inning, until it could be properly examined. Indians relief pitcher Jason Grimsley literally put a flashlight in his mouth, crawled up through the nooks and crannies of the clubhouse ceiling, lowered himself into the umpires' dressing room, and replaced Belle's bat with a bat belonging to another player. Ok, just stop for a moment and consider whether anything more awesome than that has ever happened in the history of baseball, if not the entire world of sports. (And before you answer, "Yes, there was the time ...", just remember: FLASHLIGHT. IN. MOUTH.)
Both Grimsley and Belle were, technically, "cheaters" in this case. Does anyone who is not on a steady diet of morning Metamucil really care? Of course not! What a brilliant scheme! What an edge!
Stories like this could be multiplied by a thousand in the history of baseball (although none will reach this level of pure awesomeness). And for as long as edge-gaining (ok, "cheating," you big baby) has been a part of the game of baseball, has anyone really, seriously challenged the integrity of the sport prior to the steroids era?
Oh, but those are DRUGS. We learned about those in the 80's, man, we learned that "you've got a riiiiii-hiiight, to say NO!" That's way different from corking a bat or throwing a spit-ball, right? Maybe, but probably only because we - the average fans - are somewhat mystified by the whole PED thing. I mean, I know how to throw a spit-ball - you spit, you throw. Although I've never tried it, I could probably cork a bat with little difficulty; cork is something I've experienced, it's something I can get at the store, it's something I've felt with my hands.
I would have literally no idea where to get my hands on PEDs. In preparation for this article, I attempted to get my hands on some by going into my local GNC store, sidling up to the counter in a very non-suspicious manner, and hinting strongly to the store associate that I would like to "improve my fWar" and "elevate my OPS+, if you catch my drift." I was quickly escorted out of the building (but not before I got her phone number!), but I think I made my point. If I ever had a point.
I do have a point. PEDs are something almost mythical to the mind of the average fan, and so maybe that makes the whole thing seem worse than corking a bat. It's unrelatable, so it must be something "privileged," which makes it really and truly "cheating."
But I disagree.
Jhonny Peralta is hardly a superstar of the same caliber as Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire, measuring by a standard of head-size-to-body-weight ratio. And if Jhonny Peralta can allegedly get his hands on some PEDs (put down the pitchforks, dammit, I'm just using a hypothetical example), then it's not like every other major league player can't do the same thing. It's not like Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, et al, had some VIP access that gave them an edge over the other guys. Any batter can cork his bat. Any pitcher can scuff the ball. I would assume that any MLB player could get his hands on some PEDs, if he wanted to take the risk (and was smart enough to avoid the local GNC). So where's the real advantage that makes this kind of "cheating" any worse than Jason Grimsley crawling along the clubhouse ceilings?
Are we really that worried about the so-called "integrity of the game"? Baseball's history has already established - like it or not - that this is a cheater's game, and more often than not, we celebrate the cheaters, as long as we can relate to their methods of cheating.
Side rant: I gave up on the game of baseball back in the 90's over a lack of "integrity," not because of drugs, but because of the players' strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series. That's when I quit giving a rat's naked 'nads about the game, because it became all about money, and - pay attention now - it STOPPED BEING ENTERTAINING. The performers quit performing because they wanted more money, so I quit caring about the show. I didn't rediscover my love for the game until my son was born, and later hit a record 382 home runs against me at the age of three in our backyard whiffle ball games (and I still maintain that he was using HGH). Baseball became fun again, and it became entertaining again.
Are we concerned about the record books? Should we take away Braun's MVP award because he was juicing, and Kemp was not? If you know anything about baseball history, you already know that the record books have been riddled with mentally-supplied asterisks since Doubleday invented the game. (Geez, speaking of asterisks.) Maris broke Ruth's home run record in 1961, and people complained that Maris had the advantage of a longer regular season than Ruth. A zillion years later, McGwire broke Maris' record, and then Bonds broke McGwire's record, and people complained about the PEDs. Hitters prospered in the 80's, and people complained about baseballs being "juiced." Pitchers prospered in the 40's and 50's, and people complained about the unfair sizes of the ballparks.
Lessons learned: players will perform beyond our wildest dreams from time to time, and we will never be happy about it unless we can level the playing field by complaining about the unfair advantages of longer seasons, inter-league play, All Star games that count, PEDs, spit-balls, corked bats, juiced baseballs, and on and on until someone rightly vomits. Why? Because at the end of the day, we need sports articles in the paper, we need sports talk show hosts who can fill three hours of air time, we need things to argue about with our fellow fans at Buffalo Wild Wings (advertisement fee pending), and we need to be able to nit-pick. It's what we do. We're baseball fans. We compare batting numbers and pitching numbers down to the hundredth fraction of a percent - of course we're going to scrutinize the edges and advantages that certain players had!
But if Bud Selig succeeds in locking down the game so tightly, so thoroughly leveling the playing field, where's the excitement in that? Who will be our future elite stars, the ones we talk about for the next 50 years precisely because they cheated and somehow got away with it?
In other words: are we really so concerned with the "integrity" of a historically void-of-integrity game that we need Bud Selig to steal the baseball we hit into his yard?