The International Writers Magazine: REALITY CHECK
WE WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT STEROIDS...BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
Ive spent more time in Major League clubhouses than most people
not garnering a full-time paycheck to either play the game or cover it.
And I predominantly did so during what is fast being noted as the Golden
Age of Steroids: 1988 to late 1994, before the great fiscal implosion
when whiney owners cried poverty and greedy players harrumphed all the
way to closing down the season. There was a lot of joking about "the
juice" back then. Kind of a locker-room jock thing you sometimes
overhear, because youre there.
Thats the nut of journalism, a professor once told me. "Half
the battle is just being there," he would say. And I was. I talked
City Lights bookstore with Will Clark, listened to Guns N Roses
with Don Mattingly, and conversed on hitting, food, films, and fashion
with George Brett, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn. I chatted with Ken Griffey
jr. about rap music and sports cars while Randy Johnson put his fist through
a wall. I watched Lenny Dykstra nearly take a clubhouse boys head
off with a nine iron. I did lunch with Rickey Henderson, whom I more than
suspected had a crush on my girlfriend. I was even snubbed by Cal Ripken
jr., David Justice and Nolan Ryan all in the same week.
Those were the fun moments in an otherwise highly competitive media circus.
It wasnt the good old days when sportswriters went "slumming"
with athletes, as my friend Roger Kahn used to call it, but it seemed
by the late 90s when I meandered back for a few seasons in the capacity
of a radio reporter there was more of a lockdown on players. This was
when the evolution of steroid and "performance enhancement"
drugs had taken the games brightest talent and turned them into
Greek gods, smashing baseballs and records all over the place. By then,
no one joked anymore. And they sure aint joking now.
the glaring light of the BLACO investigation, which provided evidence
that Barry Bonds was a human chemical spill, leaked grand jury testimony
from Jason Giambi, a grandstanding Senate hearing, recent FBI testimony
from a decade-long investigation, spanking new revelations from
Bonds chippy and a sensationalistic tell-all tome penned in
part by recidivist goon, Jose Conseco, there has been an outcry
from fans and the media to "clean up the game".
Thing is everyone
knew about steroids for a long time. The players damn well knew. The
aforementioned Rickey Henderson told me the entire Oakland Athletics
team laughingly dubbed the monstrous Conseco "The Bionic Cuban",
and in a more public display the late Ken Caminiti announced to Sports
Illustrateds Tom Verducci that he won the National League
MVP award jacked to the tits on steroids. The owners knew too. Of course
they knew. They had plenty of inside information and a slew of photos
of bars and girls and the other off-the-field recreations of their multi-million
dollar investments. Why wouldnt they know? And as much as they
loathe admitting it, the media jock-sniffers knew as well. But they
were too busy falling over themselves to either worship or slander these
poor bastards they covered that they ignored the obvious signs. Ignored
or chose to ignore for the paycheck.
The last thing I need to read right now is another sanctimonious hack-job
by that bleating dwarf Mike Lupica on sadness and outrage when he made
a fortune on a book celebrating the McGuire/Sosa home run chase in 98.
Unfortunately, for me, I havent made a bundle from MLB. I worked
for a modest, but award-winning Westchester weekly called the North
County News, did some radio and hosted a baseball interview show on
local television. So I was more or less free to run around decrying
the bloated statistics these freaks were putting up, while my colleagues
in the sports media biz like that chickenshit Lupica were calling me
a paranoid cynic.
What these people failed to equate was the games collective insecurity
about failing to compete with the more popular NFL and Michael Jordans
game. And all the mini-ballparks, jacked balls, and lousy diluted pitching
talent seemed to conveniently mask the Herculean offensive numbers that
were jumping off the bats of unnaturally huge athletes, the kind of
human parade floats that forced pro football to change their policy
on steroids a decade earlier.
Hey, when baseball hit its first monetary crisis after the 1919 Black
Sox scandal when a mobster called Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series,
the games patriarchs, realizing the popular impact of the newly
realized home run, livened the ball. This "Live Ball Era",
of which the last Herculean freak Babe Ruth hailed, produced some of
the most ridiculous offensive numbers the game has ever seen. Even in
the late 60s when pro football began to knock baseball off
the Americas Pastime pedestal, the game invented the Designated
Hitter, a clamp down on the spitball and lowered the pitching mounds
to promote more homers, more runs, more cheering, and bigger heroes.
These are facts, not paranoid rantings. Look at the recent unprecedented
explosion of power hitting numbers since the mid-90s, which rivals
the "Live Ball Era" in the way that this is the "Live
Player Era". Only two men ever hit 60 home runs in a season before
1998. From 1927, when Ruth hit 60 homers in a season, to 1961, when
a journeyman called Roger Maris hit 61, 37 seasons passed. During that
time and until the mid-90s only a handful of guys ever hit 50.
In fact, only two, maybe three guys hit 50 from 61 to the mid-90s.
Since then, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and now Barry Bonds have hit 60
or more homers six times. McGuire hit 70 in 98 and Bonds, who
claims to not realize he was taking steroids - and this from a health
nut I saw tell a reporter he doesnt shake hands because of germs
in 1991 - hit 73 a few years back. And although I will not pour over
the minutia of baseball statistics, I can conservatively say the 50
mark has been reached nearly two-dozen times during this insane run.
Where was the outrage all along? From fans? From owners? From ESPN?
From Bud Selig - Commissioner of the Freak Show? Was this detonation
in offensive power all crappy pitching, juiced balls, enhanced workout
regimens and advanced vitamin intake? Consider the plainest testimony
of all, believing your eyes. Just look at these men. Look at them in
their prime, and look at them in their mid-to-late thirties, and now
forties. Can humans gain uncharted muscle mass in months? Can a human
being go from a lithe, muscular from to a hulking beast in a few years,
while managing to age along the way? Its a ridiculous mockery
of common sense.
Should a mans hat size increase while lifting weights? His complexion?
Its a pathetic joke. Now everyone is getting righteous and giving
speeches and whipping up investigations.
Home runs are fun. Who cares if players are drugged up?
I enjoy the fruits of industry. Who cares if my water supplies are contaminated?
© James Campion Feb 21st 2005
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