There they were, all lined up, some in pinstripes, but none in uniform. The Bash Brothers (brothers no more), the Dominican Republic's finest export (neither smiling nor slammin'), the loud mouthed starter who broke the curse (using carefully chosen words), and the greasy, slimy backstabber who started it all.
The most incredible sights in March usually involve a kid hitting a shot as he falls down, the clock disappears, and that kid's #14 seed beats a #3. This month is different however, because as the first day of March Madness was playing out, the most incredible sight was over on ESPN, where the White House was in the background, lawyers were in the foreground, and the fifth amendment was slapping the game of baseball around like a redheaded stepchild.
One of the most famous baseball sayings in history is one of the shortest, "Say it ain't so Joe."
What many don't know is that it was coined not by a newspaper or an announcer but a little boy after the BlackSox scandal of 1918. The biggest scandal in the history of the game, players being paid to lose games. It took years for the game to recover. When you hear people who were there talk about the BlackSox, they often start with, "You have no idea how big this was." Now we do.
There are many of you out there who apparently wanted this. The polls were overwhelming. People wanted to know who was on the juice, what records were real, what were chemically aided. My editor loves Mark Grace's famous quote, "If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'."
I wonder what he (and Mark Grace for that matter), think of the quote now.
One by one they read their opening statement. Curt Shilling, Raphael Palmerio, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire. Prepared and lawer-fied, Sosa's statement was even read by his lawyer. Frank Thomas, unable to attend because of an injury, had his statement video conferenced in.
Palmeiro pointed fingers, defiantly stating, "I have never used steroids, ever."
Thomas: "I have never used steroids."
Shilling: "I've never seen a syringe in the locker room."
They are entertainers sure, but not actors. They were believable, it seems, because they were telling the truth. No one admitted to using except Canseco, but for Sosa and McGwire, the two ambassadors of the game who in 1998 brought the game off of life support and back into the family living room, it was horrible.
All I could think was, what a horrible time to be a fourteen year old.
No, not because these mighty men could have led you to think steroids were good for you. Even at 14, if you're taking advice from Jose Canseco you've got bigger problems than muscle mass. While I in no way, shape, or form discount the fact that these highly visible, highly prominent athletes are contributing to the delinquency of millions of minors, the reason it must be horrible to be fourteen right now is simple.
The curtain has been ripped away, and all that is left is a tottering old man in reading glasses.
You were seven when it happened. You loved football, you hung on every moment that Michael Jordan touched the ball, your mother had you playing soccer. If you paid attention to your father you might have heard of Roger Maris, you certainly knew who Babe Ruth was, and even though it was kind of slow, and the tickets were so expensive your parents never took you to the games, when it was on, you watched baseball.
And this giant of a man with bright red hair was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. He seemed larger than life, if he would have just stood in front of you for a minute you would have climbed him like the tree in your back yard. He hit home runs. Incredible home runs. He hit the ball so far you couldn't see it come down. He hit the ball clear out of parks.
You watched Sportscenter and started hearing Dan Patrick talk about this huge man and a record.
You asked your mother what an asterisk was. You asked your father why it was there. You heard about this huge man's little boy, and how much this huge man loved him. You cheered for him, you got a T-shirt with his name and his number, and then Sammy Sosa was right there with him. Sosa seemed so small.
You were out on the field, trying to imitate that stance; bat straight up, just a little bend at the knees.
You found the first real baseball hero that was all your own.
You found out why your father still loved baseball more than football, why people always compared Jordan to Ruth. When he broke the record you jumped up and down in your living room, cheering. You couldn't believe the one that broke the record was so short, when all the rest of them seemed to go so far.
And now you're fourteen. You've started realizing what's cool, what's not cool, girls are pretty, and this hero, this icon, this man who showed you how to love baseball...
...looks like your grandfather now. Glasses at the tip of his nose, his voice cracking. Who is this? He looks so small, so old. Where did 'Big Mac' go? And what is he saying...
You're fourteen now. You know what the 5th Amendment is. You watch as Palmeiro and Thomas say, "I have never done steroids in my life."
And your hero dodges the question. It scares you. He's doing the same thing you do when you don't know the answer and the teacher calls on you. This is not the way that a hero is supposed to act. Not the way that a hero is supposed to look, or sound, not the way your hero was.
Say it ain't so.