Playing Ball at Memory Park (tf)

Stevens, that old curmudgeon, has admitted to liking baseball. Well….sort of liking baseball.

I feel there is hope for humanity when Stevens admits to liking anything other than toy trucks and taking pictures of leaves.

But I do share his ambivalence for the game….to a certain degree at least. We all do.

We were all duped by the Bonds/McGwire/Sosa era. We filled ballparks and oohed and ahhed when one baseball after another was obliterated and hallowed records started to fall like ten-pins. Deep down we knew something was amiss. I mean…just one look at the size of Bond’s head was all you needed to know. The guy was 170 as a rookie. Now he looked like somebody stuck an air hose up his ass.

McGwire played the country bumpkin to the hilt, all the while injecting himself with scientifically perfect doses of ‘roids that allowed him to not only pass Maris and Ruth, but to gob on then as he went by. He was a lovable Paul Bunyon…the Babe reincarnated for an ESPN generation. Nobody in their right mind could look long at the guy…with legs that looked like tree trunks and arms that blotted out the sun…and not think he wasn’t cheating. So we looked only long enough to see him float another fast-ball towards downtown St. Louis. Then we cheered even louder. Baseball was fun again.

And Sosa was his lovable Tonto. Kind of a goofy, petulant, astoundingly charismatic guy who played the game like a kid, and therefore got away with just about anything, including getting caught red-handed with a corked bat and playing hard only when he felt like it. He hit the ball 10 miles….then would take a hop- skip up the first base line in a piece of showman-ship that an old school pitcher like Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale would have made him fearful for his life over. But hey, this was Sammy….and he was untouchable. The idol of kids everywhere…..and him and McGwire seemed to be rooting each other on. It was all so warm and fuzzy. To swim against the tide was to be baseball’s version of the Grinch. Pitcher’s who dared to walk any of them were booed no matter what the situation.

But the truth came out, as it inevitably always does. The trail of needles was so bountiful you’d hesitate to walk barefoot anywhere near these guys.

McGwire’s reputation was destroyed on national television, in his infamous “I’m not here to talk about the past” testimony before Congress. He appeared with his granny glasses…..was about half the size he used to be, and made a complete jackass out of himself. Unlike Sosa, McGwire couldn’t pretend he couldn’t speak English either. Sammy was able to slither out of the hearings by forgetting how well he could call up English words like “20 million a year” at contract time. But no matter. It was all over. Even Bonds, at the time probably the greatest baseball player who ever lived, wore out his welcome with stunning displays of arrogance….refusing to admit what even a slow child knew, and blaming everybody but himself for his possible perp-walks. The Giants let him go, and he waited for another team to make him an offer. None did. The guy was radioactive. It was the most anti-climatic retirement ever.

They all cheated. And loads of others too. It’s gotten so goofy that Alex Rodriguez, who if he stays healthy may pass Bonds as the greatest home run hitter in baseball history, might not make it into the hall of fame due to his doping, which he denied and denied and then admitted to when he had no choice. If there’s justice in the world Bonds of course won’t get in either. Nor will McGwire or Sosa. Or the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen, Roger Clemons. All have tainted the game….and the players they’ve played with. Jim Thome, one of baseball’s good guys, recently hit his 600th home run. He probably did it legally. But there’s always going to be that little bit of doubt, and that’s not fair to Thome.

A great game has been tarnished for sure. But it’s still a great game. It’s as uniquely American as Blues music. It’s broken our hearts before but it always makes amends. This summer is a searing one. The Phillies rolling and tumblin’. Yankees/Boston in the usual stranglehold. The Brewers doing their bit for the small market teams. Even the Pirates, who have since returned to their normal dreadfulness, made us smile for half a season at least. All good stuff.

All good reasons for a game of catch in the backyard.

–Tom Flannery

~ by admin on August 22, 2011.

One Response to “Playing Ball at Memory Park (tf)”

  1. Longing for the days of Richie Allen

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