It was not a good weekend for young and handsome superstars. While the music world is aghast at Chris Brown's alleged roughing up of Rihanna, hereby making his R&B career prospects less than mine, the sports world is in a fit over Alex Rodriguez's admittance of steroid taking during his 2003 MVP season. ESPN has officially changed its letters to AROD and the Yankees all-world third basemen will have his near-tears interview with the network's Peter Gammons played on repeat for the rest of his life.
For the angry pundits, be they on FOX News or ESPN2's First Take, it's the final straw that has disgraced The Game forever. Nearly two decades of numbers are tarnished. Asterisks now need to be handed out like, well, human growth hormones in the '90s. And most significantly, it offends those that played the game the way it was meant to be, which apparently was hungover and on speed.
"'Minch, how many major-league ballplayers do you think take greenies?' I asked. 'Half? More?'
'Hell, a lot more than half,' he said. 'Just about the whole Baltimore team takes them. Most of the Tigers. Most of the guys on this club. And that's just what i know for sure.'"
"Greenies," as noted in the then-controversial and now absurdly tame Ball Four by Jim Bouton, were "pep pills -- dextroamphetamine sulfate -- and a lot of baseball players couldn't function without them." They were banned substances then and now. While it's mostly minor league also-rans that are mentioned by name as the era's users, there are numerous late night drinking sessions that involve some of baseball's most beloved names. The same names that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and now Alex Rodriguez are "guilty" of sullying.
Here's the thing, if I was writing this blog on greenies, I'd already be done by now. By definition, that's a performance enhancer. Baseball is a game of minutia. Hitting a round ball with a round bat -- and hitting it squarely -- is a skill that balances instinct, strength, technique and alertness. Try seeing the seams on a curveball through whiskey-stained and squinting eyes or a debilitating hangover headache. Greenies enhanced a player's ability to play. Period.
When Ball Four was published in 1970, the outcry surrounded over Bouton's breaking of baseball's secret code: Don't talk about the bad stuff the nation's heroes engaged in. There was little said or done about the greenies, rampant boozing, or "beaver shooting" (aka, spying on undressing and unknowing females from hotel rooftops)...the messenger was the one shot. This time around, the messengers (the media) are shooting the 'roid-shooters who were once the country's heroes. Ball Four certainly helped to usher in the extreme scrutiny athletes are under, but ESPN and the like weren't scrutinizing the right things when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's historic* home run chase was driving up ratings.
Perhaps Mickey Mantle was one of the few players of that era who abstained from dextroamphetamine sulfate usage, but his late-night binges were legendary even before Bouton wrote about them. Perhaps the remaining 103 names on the very list that outed Rodriguez in a Sports Illustrated report over the weekend won't include players that put up significant numbers. Whether these mirroring cultures were simply ignored or quietly sponsored by Major League Baseball, greenies and steroids were the prevalent norm in the respective, but unequally respected, times.
It's time for MLB commissioner Bud Selig to step up and take the Rodriguez route and apologize for being "negligent, naive, [and] not asking all the right questions." Like the slugger, baseball was obsessed with performance and living up to expectations. The devastating 1994 strike-shortened season accelerated the steroids era and baseball's desire to return as the national past time, making the league's blind eye all the more probable.
Once baseball owns up to its part in the asterisk era, it might be able to move on. Bouton's 1970 tsunami is hardly a ripple in 2009 and maybe one day the past 15 years of baseball will be viewed in the right context. After all, future generations of players will surely face new performance enhancing scandals. Binary pitching arms, anyone?
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