The other day I was out at Fenway Park to shoot a video for Major League Baseball Productions on the Red Sox 2007 World Series championship. They asked me to talk about baseball history, in particular the first World Series in 1903 between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. MLB Productions had set up a studio in Sox CEO Larry Lucchino's suite. While waiting for the filming to commence, I wandered over the windows to view Fenway in February.
The present owners of the Red Sox have spent every winter marshalling their physical assets by improving the old ball grounds. (Let me be the first to invite you to the centennial celebration in 2012.) More seats here and there. A better drainage system. But don't touch that Green Monster! This winter is no different at the park. There was a huge crane hanging over the field carrying building materials over the spot where Manny Ramirez would be pointing to the crowd while "just being Manny."
The off-season trip to Fenway reminded me how meaningless this steroid hubbub has been. During that first World Series, the Boston and Pittsburgh newspaper were filled with stories about wagers placed by the players (!) on the outcomes of the games in which they played. Gambling has always been an unwelcome part of the baseball landscape and only periodically do we, the fans, become hyperplexic about its impact on the game. Even then, we don't erase records or place asterisks. The winner of the 1919 World Series in the official Hall of Fame records was Cincinnati, even though the Black Sox took a dive.
The same is the case with performance-enhancing substances. It is very old news. In researching my new book, The Dark Side of the Diamond, I found clear evidence that a Hall of Fame pitcher, Jimmy "Pud" Galvin, took testosterone injections in 1889. It did not have much of an impact on his performance as he neared the end of his career, at best a placebo effect. For our purposes it is useful to note that no one said a peep about the event. At a time when cocaine was legal and could be ordered by mail or purchased at your local store, steroid-like injections for ballplayers were just matter-of-fact.
Why then, I ask, are we so angry now at Bonds, Clemens, Tejada, et al.? We call them cheaters without proof that they did anything. If they did use these substances, we apparently don't care if they had any effect on their performance. Sports writers are in a frenzy in anticipation of the Congressional committee depositions slated for next week and the hearings to come soon thereafter.
Frankly, the whole business is kind of boring.
My trip to Fenway reminded me why I love this game and appreciate the work of the talented athletes who help us pass the time from April until September (or October, as is the case with the Red Sox). In a few short weeks, pitchers and catchers arrive in Florida and Arizona, and baseball's annual "audacity of hope" will emerge from the winter's gloom. They all start the season even. Your team is tied for first place. Play ball instead of bitching about steroids.