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
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
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
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
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
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
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.