Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Baseball Without Heroes
By Zach

It's been nearly a week since the stunning story first appeared on Deadspin: Albert Pujols' longtime trainer had been associated with finding performance-enhancing drugs for disgraced reliever Jason Grimsley (who also happens to anchor my middle relief in my fantasy-draft MVP 05 season, which was the only reason I knew who he was). It was a shocking blow to not just Cardinals fans, but to everyone who viewed Pujols as the antidote to Barry Bonds and the culture of cheating in baseball. So where does this leave us, as baseball (and perhaps sports) fans? I'd propose that we're embarking on a new era, and perhaps 2006 can become Year One AH (after heroes).

For the last hundred or so years, baseball has often been described in terms of providing heroes, not just for children, but for all of us. From the mythic characters of Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Dimaggio, Mays, Aaron, and others, to the more singular heros: Bobby Thomson, Sandy Amoros, and Bucky Dent, one of the largest contributions baseball has made to American culture has been providing us with heroes. While a few children may grow up dreaming of being a US Senator, a whole lot more dreamed of being a Washington Senator. How many of us have, at one point or another, stood in our back yards, or at a park, and pretended to be our favorite player?

The evolution of baseball has presented new challenges for each group of youngsters who associate themselves with a particular player. Free agency meant that players would be less likely to stick with one team for their entire career, and the recreational drug scandals of the 1980s proved that no matter how superhuman their abilities on the fiel were, baseball players were subject to the same vices as the rest of us (and they had a lot more money to indulge them with). My generation will perhaps be the final one who could grow up with the belief that what our baseball heroes were doing on the field was honest. Hell, the biggest controversy about Ken Griffey Jr. was that he wore his hat backwards during batting practice.

But now, everyone who puts on a jersey is suspect. We've entered a time in which we must acknowledge that not only is PED use rampant, but utterly unstoppable. As much as I'd like to believe that none of my more favored Mariners are using PEDs, I have nothing to back that up but my (almost certainly misguided) faith.

So what does this mean? I'd say we're embarking on a new era in baseball (and by extension, sports). It's certainly been harder and harder over the last 20 or 30 years to view athletes as heroes, but now I think it's not just difficult, it's unwise. It's time to put sports in a more reasonable context: just like actors will have all sorts of things done to their bodies in order to earn more money, even if the long-term health effects are at best unknown, so too will athletes. With the amount of money at stake, it would be foolish to assume otherwise. Perhaps if we're concerned that our children will take to using PEDs in furtherance of their dreams of professional stardom, we could either encourage them to use their talents in other, more worthwhile ways, or at least maybe keep an eye or two on what they're doing to themselves.

If and when I have a child, I plan on explaining to them that while it's alright to cheer for the team, and the player, it's important to understand that being able to hit a ball doesn't mean you know how to live a life, and doesn't make you a hero. While such an attitude may be a dramatic break from the way baseball has been experienced in the past, it's in my view the only way to keep enjoying the sport in the year 1 AH.


Blogger David Arnott said...

Charles Barkley: "I'm not a role model."

2:51 PM  
Blogger AwfulAnnouncing said...

Well said.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

While I agree with Barkley's sentiment, there's a difference between being a role model (a model for how to live one's life) and a hero (reknowned for their prowess within their sport). It's one thing to think athletes shouldn't be role models (because most of them shouldn't), but it's another to take the hero-worship aspect out of baseball because you can't be sure that the contestants are following the rules.

7:24 PM  

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