Time to consider the laundry…


A long time ago, I got an e-mail from Mike. He got me thinking, but there was so much going on that I wasn’t sure how to approach it.

Then Dad sent me the famous “Mark McGwire’s brother is writing a book telling everything and there’s no way he has anything but the most honest and pure of intentions” e-mail. (Ok… Dad’s e-mail wasn’t that bad… but McGwire’s brother is a jackass and from the little I’ve paid attention to, it seems the brothers don’t speak, so this book is worth less than a bucket of horseshit.)

Anyway… the topic is kicking around… so…

Let’s take a look. We’ll start with Mike’s e-mail to me…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rodney Harrison, caught doing HGH.

Not that bad… 4 games. He’ll be back, and we will be better.

Then I thought… I’m not happy with McGwire… cheater. Palmeiro? Gone from the game… good. Don’t care. Bonds? C’mon. He’s filthy. Sosa? Yeah, right. Giambi? Keep on taking your drugs.

Hey… make your money. I don’t blame you. I would most likely do the same. Is it right? Not on your life!

You know my stance on McGwire. Hate the guy.

Bonds? Piece of crap.

Harrison? Umm… not so much. And there lies the problem. Laundry. He’s a Patriot. My team. So I forgive him? But not Bonds? McGwire?

Bob, tell you what… I look differently now at those baseball players, because of Harrison. But… rules are rules. Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro... cheaters.

Harrison? I believe it was his first time getting drugs. (He used his own name to buy the HGH. He can play defense. You don’t need a brain, you need a gift.) That being said… Rodney should be put in the McGwire/Bonds Category… cheater. Out of the game.

What say you?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, we’re going back a while with this e-mail. And I’ve approached this specific column a few times, but something kept stopping me from completing it. I’d start a line of thinking, do some research, and then the-pitcher-who-must-not-be-named got named… appeared on television, and acted like a jerk. (Different article… possibly coming soon… part of the house cleaning of old efforts.)

But… Mr. Must-Not being in the news had me chuckling in frustration… and then Mike’s comments ticked me off because of it.


Maybe… partially… probably… because McGwire does get treated differently by me. All of that “father and son” and “passage of time” stuff attributed to baseball is involved. Harry Chapin stuff.

A few years after I moved out of the house for good… when my Dad and I were working hard to find time to get together, a trip or two to Shea to watch McGwire was a big part of our relationship. And I need to fully and completely keep that in mind when trying to be objective about McGwire.

Add to it that, for all intents and purposes… McGwire’s biggest problem appears to have been going in front of a Congressional hearing… after which the media chewed him up.

So even with a “let’s be objective, recognize what may be our personal blinders, and consider all the facts” approach that I want to use, I still believe you have to understand and allow for a fact that… and read this carefully, because I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding… professional sports are just as dirty as ever.

Ok… ok… relax. Sit down. I’m not blind or stupid. Power numbers are down all over the place. Players we once winked at each other while mentioning are getting injured and not returning. The testing and the public outcry and the increased punishments are all affecting the game. I hear you.

The problem is… you’re wrong.

Prove it? Ok.

Can you tell me… 100% no doubt about it… that any professional sport is completely rid of performance enhancing drugs?

See? How easy was that?

Fine… I’ll make it as trouble-free as possible for you. Forget about the players taking risks and using the drugs fully knowing they might get caught. All I want you to do is tell me that professional baseball… or that professional football… that either of those two sports can currently call in any player, test that player, and have the results show that there are absolutely no performance enhancing drugs in his system.

And right now, you can’t. Because as of this moment, there is no reliable test for some of the drugs in use.

So you can go ahead and tell me that Ken Griffey and Pedro Martinez never used them. For the most part, I wouldn’t even try to debate the point of whether they did or didn’t. But… Pedro is sure breaking down more often since the testing procedures became so strict. Coincidence? Probably. Can you be certain? Nope. In my mind… everyone is guilty. You can not tell me McGwire cheated and then tell me Ryan Howard is clean. You can not tell me Bonds was steroid aided and A-Fraud hasn’t been.

Mike has a very good point in his e-mail. Laundry is a good way of summarizing it. People tend to close their eyes and place their hands over their ears when the talk starts building about their favorite team. And if you don’t believe me, let’s go back two or three years, find a Boston fan, and start whispering the name of David Ortiz. I guarantee you that anyone enjoying a bowl of creamy white clam chowder would have screamed “blasphemy” at you for trying.

But even more simply put… let’s not just focus on laundry. Just the idea of whether or not we care about the name involved matters… as much as whether the punishment will ruin our favorite team. Mike’s right… his thought is fair and honest.

So… what you have to decide is what criteria you’re applying.

Is it evidence? Because if it is… McGwire wasn’t a cheater. Not according to any evidence I’ve seen.

Bonds? The evidence is being presented that he was a cheater. And the pile of evidence is getting deeper.

Sosa? Suspended for corking his bats, suspicion for other stuff. Yes, already technically a cheater.

Palmeiro? Yup… tested positive after screaming about how insulted he was to be accused.

Giambi? Harrison? Yes and yes.

But McGwire? Nope. I have seen no evidence that he took any illegal drugs. I’ve seen no evidence that he broke any rules of professional baseball.

Accusations I’ve heard. Compelling circumstantial arguments I’ve seen. Items noted in his locker and a brother selling him out have been presented to me.

But no evidence.

Ok… I admit it… in part I’m writing this to put a burr under Mike’s saddle (and under any other McGwire-hater-saddles). But there is a larger point I’m shooting for here as well.

What makes it so different that a player like Harrison… or Shawn Merriman… gets a pass and a return to the playing field, when players like McGwire, Bonds and so on seem to be sparking national outrage?

As near as I can tell, it’s because we are talking about potential immortals and legendary accomplishments in a game that treats those as sacred. It’s not purely a difference between the sports or the media covering them or the cities they play in. When Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and other players or records are approached or broken, they reflect treasures of the game. The NFL has some records… sacks for instance… that don’t even extend back thirty years. This... baseball... is history.

And yet, ultimately even that doesn’t change one very important aspect in my mind… and that is, simply put, the game has yet to be clean.

You can’t tell me that, if and when they reach the appropriate mark, that Howard or A-Fraud or any of the other names I’ve heard mentioned are the true single-season home run king or true career home run king and it’s great because they’re clean. You can’t tell me that because you don’t know.

It’s an argument that I’ve made on this site before… it’s an argument I’ve made in this column… and it’s likely one I’ll make again.

Mike’s comments are very worthy of note folks. Incredibly worthy. Because if the game isn’t clean, it means these records and these currently elected Hall of Famers are being voted in based on a combination of accomplishments and opinions. Sure, in a way, that has always been the case. We’ve heard about the guys kept out because they were difficult to work with. We’ve heard about the guys that got in because they were fun to be around. Whatever. The problem is, that’s a long way from electing Bonds to the Hall because “he was good before he started taking drugs” while keeping out McGwire just because “look at him, he was a giant” should be grounds to lose the vote. (My words here… but admit it, you’ve seen them argued by voters.)

“What say you?” Mike asked. Here’s what I say…

For years we’ve always placed personal opinions into our “facts.” Is Tom Brady or Peyton Manning the better quarterback? Oh… wait… ok, this is better… is Tom Brady or Bart Starr the better quarterback? We compare stats and championships to evaluate current players, and we use our own thoughts on what is or isn’t important to compare different generations… and we’re influenced by where we live and what happened while we grew up.

It’s why I still like Mark McGwire.

Mike’s right… even to the degree I’m generalizing the term laundry to simply mean a personal bias… laundry matters, and it always has, even before this. And... it always will.

But now, we’ve added a new level to it. The laundry… those personal factors that determine importance and opinions but cannot be measured, tracked, or proven… is even more confusing.

I keep seeing people ask about how this “steroid era” will be remembered. In the end, I say it won’t. Well… that’s not accurate. Of course it will be remembered. But it will be a notation in the margin.

We talk about Bob Gibson… but you rarely see it mentioned about the height of the pitching mound in his day. That’s just something we almost all know about and keep in the back of our mind.

We talk about Babe Ruth and Ted Williams… but you rarely see enough mentioned about the integration of baseball or the accomplishments of Negro League players in those cases. Sure… it’s there… but again, something we all know. No one is saying Babe Ruth wasn’t great because of it since we all know Ruth was great.

My point is, though perhaps earning a little more attention, steroids will be as much a part of our constant and conscious thought process as whether or not there was a designated hitter, free agency, or expansion in any of the years records were set. It just happens that today steroids is the fresh wound and the big news. Thirty years from now… not so much.

But… hopefully… by then the game may be clean.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com