How ‘Manny’ Times Can You Say You’re Sorry? The Sports Philosopher Goes Steroidal

May 5, 2009
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manny-ramirezBy Brad Eastland, t.s.p.


      Let’s go to the electronic mailbag:

      Dr. Jay Anderson, all the way from Riyadh, writes the following: “All Dodger fans in Saudi Arabia want to know why Manny Ramirez didn’t ‘unknowingly’ take a bath in Slim Fast cream or gel.   His pajamas would have fit better, and he’d still be in the line-up.”

      And then the same day, Raul Zayas of La Verne wrote us this nice note: “I read {your} sports column and found it interesting.   He, the writer {he means me}, stayed very close to basketball.   I wonder if he would steer his thoughts to baseball for us.   I have a grandson that plays on the Pomona Red Devil team as catcher.   I use my camera to record his progress and have concluded that it is the ‘unexpected’ that is at the center of my love for the game.   I am attaching a couple of shots from their last exciting game.   Even though they lost it was a great game.   Thanks.”

      Two wonderful and provocative points of view concerning the quintessential American game.   Baseball.   Still my favorite sport.   Thanks to both gentlemen for writing in.   I considered the emails separately, and then in tandem.   And it got me to thinking….

      What, I asked myself, is truly significant about baseball’s “Steroids Era”?

      It’s a complicated question.   I suppose the first possible correct answer that jumped into my mind had to do with Mr. Zayas’ reference to how much he enjoyed watching his grandson play ball.   The unexpected.   The simplicity.   How utterly pure it is, that sort of thing.   I can certainly relate.   My son is twelve, and is a darn fine ballplayer in his own right.   Watching him play ball has been one of the great joys of my life.   He’s a crackerjack hitter, a fireballing pitcher, and a versatile, multi-positional fielder.  

      He’s also retired.   At least for the moment.   Alas, my little boy Robbie (I say “little” only as a plea to the gods to get them to slow down his childhood; he’s actually a big strapping kid) has other interests these days, most notably his love of all things guitar.   Still, I hold out hope that someday he will get back into the game.   Someday.   Soon I hope.  We’ll see.

      But that’s not it.   No, I decided what struck me as most significant about the Steroids thing is not how it further magnifies the contrast between the purity of Youth baseball and the cold, cynical chicanery of the adult version, though that contrast is significant and it is important.   What I personally can’t get over are two things: 1) This ridiculous National indignation over cheating in baseball, and 2) how even this righteous, anti-druggie jihad can be rendered downright mellow in peoples’ minds with a simple apology.

      I don’t understand peoples’ predispositions in either of these areas.   As your loyal sage and sporting father-confessor, I will do my best to disabuse all of you of the urge to submit to either of them.

      First, this thing about cheating.   Stop it!   All of you out there who are indignant about Steroids and cheating, just please stop it.   All this nouveau outrage over how because Steroids is cheating it’s immoral and that it’s ruining the game, as if you’ve discovered some deep dark secret about our National Religion, is tiresome.   You think cheating in baseball is new?   Do you?   Holy Burleigh Grimes, Batman, cheating in baseball is as old as the first pitcher who ever loaded up a spitball.   In fact, back in the day, the spitball wasn’t even illegal.   It wasn’t outlawed until 1920.   Also legal back then were the licorice ball, the emery ball, the shine ball, the coffee ball, and (my favorite) the snot ball.   And after they were outlawed, pitchers kept throwing ‘em.   Sort of like Steroids; perfectly legal in baseball until 2003, and now, though outlawed, still very much in use.

      To take the point further, I can say unequivocally that cheating in baseball is not only usually glorified, it is also, historically, tacitly condoned.   Gaylord Perry admitted to doctoring baseballs, Yankee catcher Elston Howard admitted “cutting” the ball for Whitey Ford on his shin guard before throwing it back to him, and both those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame.   Don Sutton also doctored his pitches, and he’s in the Hall of Fame too.   Stealing a catcher’s signs has been against the rules for far longer than Steroids, yet we laugh at it, we consider it an integral, clever part of in-game strategy.   We love anecdotes about how a groundskeeper will doctor the field to give the home team an edge.   In New York about a hundred years ago, the Giants’ John “Muggsy” McGraw had his groundskeeper mix soap flakes in with the soil around the mound so that the enemy pitcher would rub up the ball and then while delivering the next pitch he’d have the ball literally slip out of his hands.   Seriously.   When player-manager McGraw was in Baltimore, he’d have that same groundskeeper (old Muggsy liked to travel with his favorite groundskeeper the way I travel with my favorite boxer shorts) build up and tilt the foul lines back toward the field of play, so that his bunts and teammate Wee Willie Keeler’s bunts would stay fair.   Both McGraw and Ty Cobb sharpened their spikes to intimidate and, when necessary, maim infielders trying to stop them from stealing bases.  Sixty years later, National League clubs playing the Dodgers would water down the sliding pit at first base so that when the great base stealer Maury Wills was on first he would have an impossible time getting a fast start on his way to second.   My beloved Giants were great at that sort of thing!   Funny, huh?   Bet’cha Maury doesn’t think so.   Ever see that video of pitcher Joe Niekro being searched by the umpires, and his secret nail file flying out of his pocket?   Sure, and I bet’cha didn’t even send a letter to your congressman in protest.   Pete Rose bet on baseball games, the ultimate sin, and yet fans across America still love him.   Twenty, thirty years ago tons of players dabbled in amphetamines, red juice, “greenies” and the like.   Where’s the indignation over that?   By way of explanation, those players usually said something like they “just needed a little something” to help them get through the 162-game grind of a baseball season.   Uh, okay.   Even good guys like Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt admitted they briefly experimented with uppers.   Ever hear of any petitions being circulated to remove them from the Hall of Fame?   Have you yourself ever circulated a petition to remove Perry, Sutton, and Ford from the Hall of Fame?  (If not, please don’t let me hear you complain about Steroids abusers.   It curdles my delicate stomach.)      

      Hey, it’s not like we—as a species—don’t cheat!   We cheat on our taxes, we cheat on our wives.   Wives cheat on their husbands, and hone that skill by cheating at solitaire and crossword puzzles.   We cheat on tests, at cards, on the golf course (you wouldn’t believe some of the brazen grinning golf cheaters I’ve played with), we cheat with our job applications and our resumes, we cheat every stop sign, speed limit, and every rule we can rationalize, break, and bend….

      Therefore, one could argue that cheating is one of the main things we love about baseball.   One of the main reasons it became our National Pastime.   Because it reminds us that our ballplayers, our gods, are just as flawed and corrupt as we are.   So anyway, all you Steroids-is-evil-and-unAmerican-cuz-it’s-cheating mongers, just stop it.     

      Now secondly, regarding athletes apologizing for taking Steroids.   Yes, we Americans love an apology.  We’re suckers for contrition, genuine or otherwise.   We’re the ultimate second-chance society, just tell us you’re sorry and you can get away with just about anything.  

      The question I have, is why???

      I mean doesn’t the apology make it worse?   Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a sucker for a sincere apology as the next guy.   If a guy apologizes to his girlfriend or a gal apologizes to her boyfriend for a rude, hurtful remark tendered in the heat of an argument, great.   You bump a guy in line at the store by mistake, you accidentally cut someone off in traffic, you forget an appointment that inconveniences your fellow man, an apology is terrific and cool and classy, sign me up.

      But if a guy plans and carries out a calculated plot to feather his own nest or deceive a nation for his own personal pleasure or financial gain, or conspires cleverly and covertly and oh so very shrewdly, over a period of years mind you, to gain an unfair competitive advantage over me and my fellow Americans who can’t hit a baseball five miles, and then, when he’s caught, apologizes for it? — as if that makes it okay???   For some people, I guess an apology is tantamount to throwing down a get-out-of-jail-free card.   Geez, people.   That’s the ultimate insult.   I repeat, those people are insulting you.

      When President Clinton “apologized” for indulging his raging libido within the friendly confines of the Oval Office, and “apologized” for then lying to us about it to “protect himself”, for me it made it worse, not better.   Because it made him worse, not better.   When Pete Rose “apologized” for betting on baseball games after lying about it for 15 years, I disliked him more, not less.   When Manny Ramirez apologized to Dodger fans recently, he got an immediate boost in popularity from it.   For me, it just confirmed what a jerk I’ve always known him to be.

      Let me explain something .   These serial apologizers don’t care about you.   And they are not the least bit sorry for what they did.   That’s not why they are apologizing.   You know why diamond gladiators like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are so quick to apologize when they get caught using Steroids?   It’s simple.   It’s all about the Hall of Fame.

      The Hall of Fame.   Baseball Nirvana.   Some would argue that getting into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is the greatest honor one can achieve in sports.   I myself used to be one of those people, until modern-day sportswriters ruined it.   In case you are unaware, it’s baseball writers around the country who “elect” our hall-of-famers.   So if you want to get into the Hall of Fame, you have to make these morons happy.   It’s not about how you perform on the field, it’s about if 75% of the sportswriters who actually are given a vote on this sort of thing like you enough to forgive you.   That’s why guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens will all probably never see Cooperstown.   They never apologized and never will.   The Bunyanesque McGwire, eligible and unrepentant, has trouble getting 20% of the nation’s smug sportswriters to vote for him.   Bonds and Clemens—proud, bitter, and defiant to the end—have no chance to get enshrined.  (Yet Clemens denied using Steroids again just a couple days ago.   Good for him.   Ride your lie all the way to the wire, that’s what I say.   Be a man.) 

      Which brings us, finally, again, back to Manny Ramirez.   I do want to say (on a partisan note) that I was happy when I heard he did it and got caught, because I don’t like the Dodgers, and anything anti-Dodger has always warmed me right up from the inside out.   That said, let me say this again: The reason why Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez apologized so quickly and syrupy and “sincerely” after they got caught is the same reason Pete Rose apologized for gambling and lying about it.   It’s all about the Hall of Fame.   They figure that maybe if they show “contrition” about their “big mistake” that these self-righteous scribes will some day cut them some slack and let them in the Hall.   Please.   As if that has anything to do with anything.

      You know what it’s like?   It’s like that line in Gone WithThe Wind, where Rhett Butler scolds Scarlett O’Hara for the phoniness of her various apologies: “You’re like the thief who is not the least bit sorry he stole,” the great Clark Gable declares, “but is very, very sorry he’s going to jail!”  (One of my favorite lines from any movie.   Thank goodness I’ve never forgotten it, so that now I can be in a position to share it with you whilst concurrently making my point.)  

      Anyway, that’s exactly how I feel about guys who take Steroids and then get caught and then apologize.   The apology makes it worse.   These guys who do the sport wrong and make millions of dollars by gaining an unfair competitive advantage and then have the nerve to apologize—as if that sort of planned, self-serving, calculated contrition suddenly makes it okay and actually makes them better people—are making fools out of the Hall of Fame voters, and they are making fools out of you too.  (Funny thing is, I happen to think all those guys should be in the Hall of Fame.  But that’s not the point.)  

      Anyway, my point is that the minute any athlete publicly apologizes for engaging in a years-long cabal to defraud me and mock my trust in sports, I immediately cross him off my list.   Screw me if you must, but don’t try to kiss me at the same time.   If you’re going to deceive me, at least be honest about it.   At least be honest about your pre-planned dishonesty.    

      As a baseball historian and long-time patron of baseball theater, I prefer my rogues and rascals without make-up.   Give me proud, bitter, defiant guys like Bonds and Clemens every time.   


The Sports Philosopher

The Sports Philosopher

The Sports Philosopher


Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :

One Response to “How ‘Manny’ Times Can You Say You’re Sorry? The Sports Philosopher Goes Steroidal”


  1. Time to Cast Your Vote, Sports Fans

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