Rip up the damn record book!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Rip up the damn record book!

I probably began following major league base­ball circa 1949-1950, and elected to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers because of my friendship with fellow Cub Scout Jay Dudley.

This annoyed the hell out of my non-sports afi­cionado father whose words of advice were, "If you have to root for someone, root for the New York Yankees because the Yankees are a 'money team.'"

His advice was sound... the Bronx Bombers were in the middle of an unprecedented, and 60 years later still unmatched, five consecutive World Championships.

Dodgers logo

But I could never warm to them, and so it's been 60-odd years of frustration and infrequent exhila­ration while bleedin' Dodgers Blue.

But this isn't about my amour fou with a team, it's about every sports fan's second obsession: statistics!

In my lifetime I've seen virtually every season and career record broken, starting with Roger Maris' 61-no-longer-with-an-asterisk home run standard, to Maury Wills' 104 stolen bases, to Kenny Hubbs' streak of 78 errorless games at 2nd base, to career marks by Henry Aaron (755 home runs) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2,632 consecutive games played).

(Ripken Jr.'s mark and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak seem to be the only two inviolate of a non-pitching nature.)

Note the last one set, the 2,632nd consecutive game, happened in 1995, and was the first big event which re-ignited the country's romance with what had always been considered "the national pastime" until the 232-day work stop­page caused the cancellation of the remainder of the 1994 baseball season as well as that Fall's World Serious!

Fan outrage1 was palpable, and they express­ed their displeasure by staying away from ball­parks in droves.

The surpassing of Lou Gehrig's iron man mark by Ripken Jr. not only got the Baltimore fans back into Camden Yards, but reminded the rest of the country that baseball was part of the American ethos.

What is generally perceived as the sealing of the deal, though, was the dramatic home run race three years later between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.

The two National League clubs have always been natural geographical rivals, and there have been numerous sore spots between them for over a century... think Harry Caray and Lou Brock!

The teams themselves weren't locked in any race, but their two sluggers were.

They were pounding the ball into the stands at such a pace, that the three networks which had Major League Baseball television contracts that season, Fox, NBC and ESPN, began put­ting games involving the Cards and the Cubs on their TV schedules with greater frequency.

Enduring images from that season include McGwire sweeping his 11-year-old uniformed son up in his brawny arms after hitting the home run which broke Maris' 37-year-old single season record, and Sosa's little finger-tip kissing ritual as he approached home plate after a round-tripper.

Great stuff! Telegenic! Recaptured fan interest in Major League Baseball from Coast-to-Coast.

Problem is, it was all fraudulent if not, in Sosa's case at least, illegal!

Both ballplayers were "juiced," using "perform­ance-enhancing drugs2" (steroids).

And in 2003, Sosa was suspended for a period for using a "corked bat3."

Now, of course, the player who established the single season home run mark of 73 in 2001 and the career mark of 762 in 2007, Barry Bonds, is on trial for lying about his steroid use during his playing days.

It disgusts me!

I propose that the pages in the Major League Baseball record books from the "steroid era" be ripped out, and the standards be reset to the pre-juice days.

Gone would be the McGwire (2X), Bonds and Sosa (4X) records set between 1998 and 2001, and Maris would again reign with 61 in 1961, and Aaron with 755 as a lifetime mark.

Baseball should also consider vacating Sosa's 1998 Most Valuable Player award, and those given to Bonds from 2001 through 20044.

If the National Collegiate Athletic Association can strip Reggie Bush of his 2005 Heisman Trophy and his USC team of their 2004-2005 victories, what the hell is Major League Base­ball waiting for?

Notes
  1. Including mine! The Dodgers were in first place in the West, 3½ games up on the hated Giants when the season was called off!
  2. In 2010 McGwire admitted using steroids at various times throughout his career, in­cluding during the 1998 season!

    In 2009 The New York Times reported Sosa was on a list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
  3. Whether or not a corked bat is that much of an advantage to a hitter, use of one in a baseball game is illegal!
  4. I'll get back on the ones in 1991, 1993 and 1994, after his trial!

Comments

1. Jeanne Speir said...

ACTH (AdrenoCorticoTropic hormone) was discovered in the late '20s. It's similiar, if less purified than the steroids they give these days.

Docs used to shoot people and athletes up like there was no tomorrow when I first worked as a nurse in the '70s. Amphetamines were used by the generations prior, and cocaine before that.

It was used like candy. Ladies, this is why our progenitors were all fashionably skinny. You can live on tea and uppers!

There must be Hall of Famers in Cooperstown who used the stuff.

Anybody who uses steroids for long enough pays a physical price. Ask Jason Giambi. Or people with Rheumatoid Arthritis or severe asthma. Brain tumors, weak bones, little testicles, yadda yadda. You pay to play.

As for disbarring athletes for their superhuman performances, as we make movies for kids worshiping superheros, it seems disingenuous to me. Ditto on the Tour de Francers who retransfuse their own blood to excel in high altitude biking. Just MHO. It's a risk taken by athletes to boost their entertainment factor. Sad, but I think an inexorable slide into Orwellian life.

Don't have to "ask Jason Giambi" as we have only to look at Ken Caminiti and Lyle Alzado, two athletes I loved to watch during their heyday, never imagining that it was all "better playing through chemistry."

But I don't think "greenies" and Dewars won the Triple Crown for Mickey Mantle in 1956!
Dean

2. Jeanne Speir said...

If "the Mick" used Dewars and Greenies what makes you deny the very likely possibility his doc was giving him an energy shot?

O sweet honey mustard! I'm having a sports argument with my wife?!?

An "energy shot" in those days was Vitamin B12! Mantle, and a number of other Yankees players of that period "trained" on Scotch and pulled themselves together the next day with amphetamines, but if there was anything else, it would've been in "Ball Four," the original warts 'n' all sports book. It wasn't, so it's a reasonable assumption that it didn't happen.
Dean

3. Jim Cordo said...

In my mind, Roger Maris and Hammerin' Hank hold the records.

For the record though, I think baseball should leave the record books alone. Some players took them when they were legal. Some players like Andy Pettitte used them like a normal person might, to help heal an injury. Some just cheated, some were duped by greedy trainers. Some players never took any and had great years that should make them Hall of Famers.

I think the stigma will follow the athletes for eternity. As you described your early memory of baseball, your father was involved. I think it is the same today. It 'disgusts' many if not most of the people I know. I believe that feeling will be passed on to future generations just as the booze stories of Mantle, Ruth or Billy Mmartin, etc.

The next issue seems to be stem cells being transplanted from one part of the player's body to another like the elbow or as in the case of Bartolo Colon, the shoulder. These cells appear to have great success in healing and strengthening the affected area. Some are questioning the 'baseball legality' of this procedure. It sounds ok to me now, let's see how far they push it. imo, in the near future, non-baseball players with a rotator cuff injury would routinely get this procedure, probably with some short term doses of growth hormone or steroid. Except for the drugs (I guess) I think any patient should be able to get the best medical care available, including ballplayers.

I can say with authority, booze and amphetimines will not improve your abilities over a Summer... I mean season. I can't imagine how good some of those guys could have been without them.

It's funny... my buddy Marty, a reconstituted Yankees fan after Willie went to San Franciso, and I talk about this all the time... the parts of an athlete's body that have been discovered over the past 50-60 years. Karl Spooner had a sore arm, Gale Sayers had a "football knee." (And, of course, Don Newcombe, Billy Martin and Ryne Duran were drunks, and "Big Daddy" Lipscomb had a bad arm from all the heroin he shot into it!)

But now pitchers have grown rotator cuffs and ball-carriers have discovered anterior cruciate ligaments... hell, tennis players have even found they can have lateral epicondylitis.

Professional athletes were tougher, more manly men back then! If Martin, Mantle, Hank Bauer and Yogi Berra could punch some drunks off their bar stools at the Copacabana, and show up the next afternoon to beat the Kansas City Athletics 3-0 (Mantle was 2-for-2 with a home run and two walks, and Bauer drove in another run), I rest my case!
Dean

4. Jim Cordo said...

I would be interested to know what Jeanne thinks about the stem cell work as it relates to pro athletes. Also, as a health care professional, I'd also like her opinion on short term use of steroids or hgh for injured players. Should the players be banned from treatments that are used on regular people?

I've put it out here... Jeanne?
Dean

5. Hampton West said...

One other record that has held up is Johnny VanderMeer's back to back no hitters - I think the second one was the first night game at Ebbet's field.

That aside I'm for ripping out the juiced records - as much as I am a Giants fan Barry Bond's "record" is totally tainted, horrible.

Yes, that was the inaugural night game at Ebbet's Field!

I was going to dismiss VanderMeer's feat as a fluke which will never be repeated, but the way that big righty for the Detoits has been pitching this year he could throw three no-nos in a row!

Another fluke that should never be matched would be two Grand Slams in the same inning by the same player off the same pitcher! Why Chan Ho Park was still in there to pitch to Fernando Tatis a second time with the bases loaded has always been a mystery to me!
Dean

6. Jeanne Speir said...

Like surgery is to rotator cuffs, why not stem cells for repairs?

I think it's terrific. Far safer than the pig ligaments used, or cadaver bone chips which may have diseases we don't know about until they've been used... ditto on corneal transplants... or rejected organ transplants, if we're getting to the point where one's own stem cells are used to repair our body parts, why not? The controversy and opposition today would be foolish.

Plus, no children's livers from Brazil were harvested for these procedures. Isn't there some black market for human organs?

Dean and I discussed the other day Mickey Mantle's acquisition of a liver after destroying his own. To me, that was immoral.

Especially as his obtaining the liver implied a blameless kid would die without it.

This is not my area of interest much less expertise... I'm just sitting here marvelling at a gentleman I ran into last week who looked in the pink of things and ready to do two rounds of golf! Last year at this time he was carrying an oxygen bottle with him everywhere and was literally on his last legs. Over the Winter he went to Pittsburgh and got a new lung! My jaw is still slack as I write this!
Dean

7. Jim Cordo said...

Thank you for your time Jeanne. I agree completely. I also think that ballplayers should be able to take hgh or steroids, with complete transparency and disclosure, for a short time to deal with injuries that might otherwise end their careers.

8. Hambone said...

Just for the record Mike Schmidt (HOF) fully admit using greenies and very candidly said if he were offered steroids he would have considered using them.

[sigh!] As is often the case, you're very selective in your information, Andrew.

Subsequent to that statement to Bob Costas, he wrote in his 2006 book, "Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Shrinking Ballparks, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball," he recanted, saying that he understood the drive to get a competitive edge but he could not condone breaking the rules to do so.
– Dean

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