Listening to the coverage of the Mitchell report, I began to wonder how I would explain the "Steroids era" to my grandson. In fifty years how will I explain what happened. How absurd will it seem to my grandson? "Didn't everyone know that players were cheating?" he will ask. "Couldn't they tell when suddenly sluggers began to bust the records?" When Bonds grew three shoe sizes and two head sizes? When Clemens kept winning Cy Youngs into his 40s? When 50 homeruns stopped meaning anything? When baseballers started looking like weightlifters? Didn't everyone know?
And I'll tell him. Yes. Everyone knew. We all knew.
"Then why didn't anyone say anything," he will ask.
And then I will be faced with the most important question: where to begin? As hard as it is to predict the future, it may be even harder to predict how the past will be told in the future. I think I will begin with the players' strike, the anger of the fans, the usual chest-pounding about greed, the lockout, the non-salary cap solution,the low attendance crisis, the talk of the death of the game, the war of small markets versus big markets, the luxury tax, the Yankees dynasty, the cinderella stories of the Marlins and Diamondbacks and Rockies, the horrific fad of teal jerseys, the McGuire-Sosa race, Boston finally breaking the curse, Clemens shooting a 1.87 at age 42, Bonds passing Aaron...Maybe I will get lost in the story and my grandson will get bored.
Or maybe I will begin with the rise of the modern sports star, the explosion of salaries, the transformation of sports into a quest for fame and fortune, the invention of the athlete as product endorser, the 80s "me" generation, the 90s bubble, the bubble's burst, the rise of China...
Or maybe I will begin with the globalization of the game, the infusion of stars, the egalitarian ethos, the amazing rewards, the actually seeing Pudge play, the Alomar brothers, Pedro and his papis, Manny being Manny, A-Rod and his discontents, A-Pu, ICH-I-RO, the mysterious "gyroball," the sense of the impossible, the willingness, the desire to believe in a man hitting 73 homeruns.
Or maybe I will begin with a nostalgic story about when athletes
didn't play the game for the money, when they were true heroes. A
simpler game. When athletes were role models.
Or I could begin with the invention of the internet. And I'll make a joke about how I can remember a time before the internet. The time before insta-news. Before CNN. Before world-wide blogation. A time when athletes were not hounded, were not seen as role models, could drink their gin, date their groupies, and do their steroids in the privacy of their own homes.
"What was HGH?" he will ask. And I probably will no longer remember.
But I will remember how at every stage of the era it seemed like it would never get fixed. How corruption seemed to be everywhere. How the
sytem became corrupt, and everyone's hands were dirty: the players and
the teams, the union and the commissioner, the agents and the press,
the owners and the fans. How mass punishment was never an option. How the crisis was handled like most American social crises in the second half of the twentieth century. How it started by prosecuting the biggest star. Follow the money. Flip lower-level operatives. Prosecute symbollically, but punish the source, the companies and distributers.
I will not remember the ESPN insta-punditry, the Mets conspiracy theory, or the shady Tejada trade.
I will remember the son of a textile worker and day laborer, the former Antitrust trial attorney, federal judge, Senator from Georgia, the former Majority Leader, and the envoy to the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The man who headed the closest incarnation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that baseball would stand in the "Steroids era."
And I will also remember Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
And I will not need an asterisks to remember.
And I will remember thinking that the "Steroid era" will pass. It will become history. Like the Black Sox and the Mob. Like Jim Crowe and white supremacist baseball. Like Rose betting on his own team and Watergate. Like the "War on Drugs" and cocaine in the NBA. Like football in LA and baseball in Montreal.
This too shall pass. The "Steroid era" will become just that. A moment in the long history of American baseball. Another chapter in the game when, once again, societal issues were projected onto baseball and baseball issues were projected onto society.
And my grandson may ask, "So, the game was dying until players started taking steroids. Did steroids save the game?" It's an interesting question, and one that some began to ask immediately after the Mitchell Report. I'm not sure. But it certainly will make a good story.