Welcome to The Power of My Proven System, Timothy Bracy‘s new sports column. Because even though we like art and stuff, we also like sports, and stuff.
Although it isn’t clear that anyone asked, Roger Clemens was on the radio earlier this week, denying that he has ever used steroids. This was at least somewhat strange, owing that Clemens had been resolutely silent for the better part of a year, and of course because he did do steroids — tons of them and for years on end. The interview made for an interesting bookend with Dick Cheney’s recent and intensely weird publicity rampage. Both men see desperate to litigate their ruined reputations in public — to talk themselves either into or out of jail — it’s difficult to say which. The other day, Sports Illustrated landed on my doorstep with Manny Ramirez on the cover. Inside Tom Verducci’s scrupulously detailed account of the circumstances surrounding Manny’s recent steroids bust was typically well reported and could have bored hours into a clock.
Steroids related offenses are the very worst sports story to write about — the entire issue lies limpidly at a crossroads between dull, cynical and unsurprising. Watching the slow procession of shamefaced disclosures of some ‘mistake’ made by one major league superstar after the next is an ugly proposition, as time consuming as a Catholic wedding, and just as likely to end in misery. Everyone hates this particular controversy. Unlike, say, the hijinx of the ‘86 Mets, there is very little about steroids that is even in comically poor taste. It all has the same ring of controlled and clinical fraud that so well describes much of the past twenty years — the fake wars, artificially inflated markets, hypocritical moral crusades. It’s all a devastating drag, but the recent spat of huge names implicated makes it difficult to get away from. And it might not end for years, principally because athletes like Clemens and Alex Rodriguez won’t seem to let it.
No soul possessing even a small shred of skepticism could have been remotely shocked by the disclosure of Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use. And only the most naively credulous individual could have been even briefly persuaded by the ensuing, flagrantly silly lie-a-thon which passed for his PR crisis management. As we all know, A-Rod has been injecting himself with a massively high-volume cocktail of HGH and horse steroids from the time he was a small child. But Rodriguez failed us all by refusing to take the sensible route pioneered by Andy Petite and Jason Giambi: admit to the minimum, pretend to be contrite, and allow all us to move on with our lives. Instead A-Rod asininely claimed to have taken performance enhancers for only a short time while playing for the Texas Rangers — the pressure of his new contract had brought him to temptation‘s door — a uniquely dumb and contrived story which instantly guaranteed that further contradictory revelations were certain to follow.
I doubt A-Rod thinks taking steroids was a stupid mistake. And arguably it was pretty smart, judging by the two boggling contracts it earned him, the 600 home runs, and the various baroque accoutrements of his jetset lifestyle. What was stupid, and what makes A-Rod so unlikable, is the near demented arrogance inherent in allowing a moderately unflattering story to metastasize into a multi-year, piecemeal imbroglio by dint of his unwillingness to admit to something everyone already knows.
The recent Manny Ramirez debacle has been equally depressing, if for no other reason then we have come to expect so much more from Manny’s transgressions — more amusement, more befuddlement and more general creativity in his miscreant ways. God knows it wasn’t surprising — it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that Manny is heedlessly ingesting every available substance in the western United States. But coming from the notorious goofball iconoclast — a man who remains supremely popular despite exerting effort on the field only when the mood strikes him — Manny’s boilerplate prevarications and manufactured shame that followed his 50-game suspension was nearly too much to bear. Steroids even made Manny unfun. At a bare minimum, one would have hoped he’d have evinced a semi-plausible ignorance of the whole matter and taken the field the very next day, only to be escorted off by league security, wild eyed and baffled, to the cheers of his adoring throngs.
On sleepless nights for more years than I can count, I used to fantasize that Major League Baseball would just admit it all, the whole vile reality, in a savage bit of full-disclosure jujitsu. In my mind’s eye I envisioned Bud Selig peering smug and imperious from a media lectern, surrounded by a phalanx of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and a finger-wagging Rafael Palmeiro. There he would announce in no uncertain terms the league’s new steroid policy: “Every player in this league is expected to perform to the maximum of their capabilities, and that means every single player is expected to be nothing less than juiced to the tits! I want home runs raining like bombs from every stadium in North America! I want adults injecting children, pros assisting the amateurs. I want to see a needle protruding from the ass of every last player in every last locker room stretching the length of this fine dominion…”
That demented screed would be followed by the immediate removal of Cal Ripken Jr. from the Hall Of Fame, the face on his Cooperstown bust ritualistically sandblasted off and replaced by that of a bug-eyed, sweating Brady Anderson. Ken Griffey Jr. would be handed a 100-game suspension on the basis of mere suspicion that he was abstaining. It’s a revolting concept, sure, but wouldn’t it end it all, finally? What seems apparent is that however exhausted the public may be with this issue, we’re only reaching the tip of the iceberg and are in for a long and bumpy ride. For baseball fans, steroids are purgatory, and possibly hell.