I came within four questions of running the board Thursday on “Double Jeopardy!,” and I nailed “Final Jeopardy!” — who was Monet? — while only one of the teacher contestants got it. I was on fire.
Well, not literally, but feverish, but also hyper focused, which is extremely rare for me. I often do well with “Jeopardy!” questions — Wednesday’s final answer, “Who was Brutus?,” stumped the contestants but not me — yet I must confess that Thursday’s results might be tainted.
I was hopped up on steroids. That’s right: I was using performance-enhancing drugs. (Prednisone).
The two Major Leaguers banned in the last two weeks for using steroids probably weren’t being treated for pneumonia, as is the case with me, but the infractions (Melky Cabrera’s and Bartolo Colon’s, not mine) have the sports talkers buzzing. So here’s what I want to say to the Hall of Fame voters, those wholesome, sober, fastidious, faithful-to-wives sports writers.
If a player admitted cheating (see: Jose Canseco) or has been banned for using performance-enhancers (M. Cabrera, Colon, et al), they shouldn’t be eligible for the Hall. Case closed.
Otherwise: Shut up.
Roger Clemens. Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds. Hall of Fame.
Mark McGwire. PLEASE. Hall of Fame!
Before I give you my take on the Steroid Era, let’s shine the light on the Greenie Era, that period of the 1970’s and early 80’s when The Big Red Machine, certain Pittsburgh Pirates, now Hall of Fame Philadelphia Phillies and many others were fueled by something other than their sheer love of the game. Back in the late-80’s I basically stumbled into a friendship with Ken Reitz, former Cardinals third baseman and later a Cub and Pirate, who also had some unpleasantness with the Commissioner’s office for the substance abuse that eventually wrecked his career.
He swore me to secrecy, but dropped the names of some of the game’s biggest stars. If not for the “greenies” — speed, amphetamines — that players popped incessantly to deal with the brutal grind of a 162-game season and the advent of something new, a thing called “free agency,” many of those players wouldn’t have lasted past mid-August. They pepped up with speed and air-braked with booze.
And management knew it; maybe more than tolerated it. Reitz told me he played for a Pirates team that had greenies in bowls like M&M’s. The die was cast for my future opinion about the Steroid Era when he told me — by names — the sports writers who routinely helped themselves to an occasional “treat.”
It’s the writers who cast Hall of Fame votes.
Was Barry Bonds “dirty?” Probably. But for his entire career? Probably not. Did the cocktail of “supplements” that Mark McGwire ingested enhance his performance? (Define “enhance.”) Did he suddenly learn to hit a baseball? Were they illegal? Technically, no. Did those needles really pierce The Rocket’s posterior? He says not.
So we don’t really know, and if you think that view is so naive that it’s laughable, consider that we also don’t know how many of those massive moon-shots that McGwire hit while he and Sammy Sosa were SAVING baseball in 1998 were hit off “enhanced” pitchers. Roger Clemens seemed to have the best years of his career in his twilight. If he was “juiced,” how many of the batters he had to face were also supplementing?
I am NOT saying that two wrongs make a right. I’m saying that the information that exists isn’t strong or consistent enough to be fairly and uniformly applied by the sanctimonious hypocrites that form the fraternity of the Baseball Writers Association of America. How did Cal Ripken Jr. perform so well for so long? Derek Jeter?
Until there’s standard, reliable and accurate testing, cheating will occur. So let’s test and boot the cheaters. But when we single out the ones we’re most comfortable seeing as villains — Bonds, McGwire, A-Rod, Clemens — it leaves a haze of suspicion over the others. And it completely ignores that some of the game’s greatest from 30 and 40 years ago — several with uniforms, balls, gloves or bats safely ensconced and gathering dust by now at Cooperstown — got a wink and a nod on their way to enshrinement. (What about The Babe? How did Joe DiMaggio endure that 56-game hitting streak? Didn’t The Mick use some sort of pain-killer for those awful knees? And even if Ty Cobb was clean, he was a horrible human being, one of the nastiest, meanest to ever walk the planet. Maybe it was ‘Roid Rage that prompted him to go into the stands and beat up a one-armed man?)
Finally, I hope Roger Clemens, age 50, does return to the mound for an encore. In fact, he needs just 20 wins to become No. 3 on the all-time wins list. Is he an arrogant ass? Seems so. Could he actually pull it off? Probably not, no way.
But I’d love to see him try.
The Top 10 Favorite Players of My Lifetime
To make these lists, I actually had to see the player play — in person. My honorable mention 20, in no particular order:
David Freese; Hal McRae; Frank Howard; Rollie Fingers; Gaylord Perry; Al Hrabosky; Johnny Bench; John Mayberry Sr.; Rod Carew; Brooks Robinson; Cookie Rojas; Bob Gibson; Freddie Patek; Willie McGee; Catfish Hunter; Bo Jackson; Cal Ripken Jr.; Darrell Porter; Willie Stargell; Pete Rose (who should be in the Hall). I saw Barry Bonds as a Pirate and a Giant. But he’s not a favorite. But he belongs in the Hall.
Top 10, in order: George Brett; Paul Molitor; Nolan Ryan; Mark McGwire; Derek Jeter; Reggie Jackson; Hank Aaron; Carl Yastrzemski; Albert Pujols (No. 3 until he went west); Ozzie Smith.
Now: I DARE you to put an asterisk next to any of those names.