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David Margolick Headshot

Baseball Gods

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I tuned in with millions of others last night as Roger Clemens insisted to Mike Wallace that he never took steroids. Like everyone else watching 60 Minutes, I looked for that telltale tic or gulp or stammer, that slightly unnatural over or under-emphasis in something that Clemens said, that usually accompanies a lie. I thought I detected such things, but to me at least it was a close call, on the very edge of the plate. Here, at least, it was hard to tell whether Clemens was being straight or throwing junk.

But it reminded me of something that has been gnawing at me since the steroid issue, then the report of former Senator George Mitchell, broke. Has anyone else been struck at how the Steroid Era, as Mitchell called it, has overlapped with the increasing religiosity within the game? At the very time the players were bulking up and shooting up, they were also looking up. Skyward. To God. Once, no sparrow fell from the sky without God knowing about it. Now, no home run is hit, no called third strike thrown, without heavenly assistance. I'm not saying the two are necessary connected. In fact, quite the contrary: For all their very public protestations of faith, many, many ballplayers were apparently not content to rely on the Almighty alone. While they were down on their knees, they were also on their stomachs, getting injected in their buttocks. They were hedging their bets.

If the two things were previously unconnected, though, surely they should be so today. Where are all those team chaplains now, when a conspiracy of silence envelops the sport, when dozens and dozens of their locker room parishioners, past and present, say nothing? Aren't their sins, sins against the sport and the fans who follow it, worth confessing? What's been heard from the Baseball Chapel, the evangelical movement in the locker rooms described by Karin Tanabe a few months ago in Moment magazine? Or are walk-off homers all that matter to them?

It's time, in fact, to establish a connection between these two worlds. What is called for is another commission, this one headed not by a former judge and senator but a clergyman, in which honorable players can come forward and confess to what they did. Perhaps when a few of the more courageous ones do, others will follow suit, and we'll have testimony from more than a few former purveyors out to save their own butts. And Roger Clemens won't have to turn to Mike Wallace to talk. There's even a precedent: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Here would be an honorable marriage of baseball and religion. Baseball has now had its Patrick Fitzgerald. But who will be its Bishop Tutu?