Posted Online: Feb. 03, 2013, 6:00 am
Baseball and the loss of innocence
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By Dan Lee
We know that we don't live in an age of innocence. This, however, used to be the time of year when those of us who are baseball fans allowed ourselves to succumb to the myth of innocence.
With spring training less than a month away, all things are possible (even for Chicago Cubs fans), and the sport we love so much is born anew with the blemishes of previous seasons but distant memories.
And then reality intrudes, as it did this past week when reports surfaced suggesting that several big-name major league baseball players may have recently purchased PEDs from a now-defunct clinic in Miami.
I suppose that in a certain sense, there has never been an age of innocence in baseball. The Black Sox scandal of 1919, when several members of the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, was certainly not a shining moment.
Ty Cobb, who was a very good baseball player, was downright mean -- not the sort guy that you would want your kids to grow up to be.
Babe Ruth, who like Mr. Cobb was a very good baseball player, wasn't a firm believer in marital fidelity, spending more time in whore houses than anyone who is married (or for that matter unmarried) should. (The appropriate amount of time is none at all.) And somewhat more recently, Pete Rose's greed got him involved in gambling activities that will forever stain his reputation. Yet, with child-like innocence, we like to think there is something great and good and beautiful about baseball.
I was struck by the contrasting baseball news the last couple of weeks. The allegations of recent PED use by major league players followed by just a few days stories about the loss of Stan Musial and Earl Weaver. Both Mr. Musial and Mr. Weaver were exceptional individuals both on and off the field.
Mr. Musial had retired before I moved to Illinois and became a Cubs fan. I would have cheered for him, however, even after becoming a Cubs fan because he exemplified all that is great and good and beautiful in baseball. My only association with Mr. Musial is very indirect.
A neighbor who lives around the corner from us, when in his late teens, was invited to try out with the Cardinals. During the tryout, he struck out Mr. Musial. The Cardinals offered our neighbor a contract, but what they offered him was not enough to live on, so he turned it down. Times have changed, and not necessarily for the better.
While I was doing some post-graduate work at Georgetown University, I did have the opportunity to watch Mr. Weaver manage on a couple of occasions. At a crucial point in one of the games, Boog Powell was in the on-deck circle. Since every Orioles fan in the stadium was shouting "B-o-o-o-g," making it sound as if they were booing him, which, of course, they were not, Mr. Weaver was having trouble communicating with Boog from the dugout, so he went out to the on-deck circle to give Boog some instructions. (Somehow it just doesn't seem fitting to call Boog "Mr. Powell.")
Boog was huge. He was both tall and wide. Mr. Weaver was not tall. He reached up and put his hands on Boog's shoulders and told Boog what he was supposed to do. I don't know what Mr. Weaver said to Boog. I assume that he did not tell Boog to bunt. Perhaps he told Boog to take the first pitch (which, as I recall, he did) and that after the first pitch, the hit-and-run would be on. Mr. Weaver was that type of clever manager.
And so when we want to think about all that is great and good and beautiful in baseball, we find ourselves reminiscing about the past, which is a sad reflection of how hollow baseball has become.
Dan Lee teaches ethics at Augustana College; firstname.lastname@example.org.