A column by Reggie Hayes
Baseballís home-run derby lives, and Elvis haunts me.
ďWe canít go on together with suspicious minds,
ďAnd we canít build our dreams on suspicious minds.Ē
If youíre old enough to know that Elvis Presley song, I apologize for sticking those lyrics in your head. Theyíll be there two hours, minimum. But, it could be worse. I could have quoted ďHound Dog.Ē
If youíre not old enough to remember thin, fat or extra-crispy Elvis, youíll get the idea anyway.
The song is about a relationship lacking in trust. Thatís how I feel about Major League Baseball.
Iím the one with a suspicious mind.
I long to be more trusting. After all, Uncle Bud Selig put a real live bureaucrat on the job to investigate steroid use, clean up the questions surrounding muscle, power and the shattering of home run records, and make everything lush and green in the baseball universe.
They promised us a fresh start.
And yet, within two weeks, roughly seven bazillion home runs have been hit. The home-run spree includes almost daily blasts by the Detroit Tigersí Chris Shelton, formerly known as ďWhoís Chris Shelton?Ē
Now, Iím not saying Shelton uses steroids. He doesnít fit the profile. He shows none of the telltale signs of an excessively sculpted body, an abnormally large head, moodiness and an ESPN reality show. When it comes to redheads, he resembles Rusty Staub more than Mark McGwire.
And Shelton is not alone in going yard night after night. The Cardinalsí Albert Pujols, the Redsí Adam Dunn, the White Soxís Jim Thome and the Indiansí Travis Hafner are also sending the baseballs flying on a regular basis.
This seems a little too good, and too powerful, to be true. Why the sudden power surge, especially in light of baseballís effort to undermine advances generated by pharmaceutical means?
One theory says the ball itself is juiced, that baseball officials couldnít give up their home run addiction and found a way to alter the ball. Artificially enhanced baseballs would be a victimless crime, although still distasteful.
Another theory says better steroid testing has made pitchers more honest in their training, too, and allows the hitters to keep up their homer pace on an even playing field.
Others say the April blast-a-thon is an aberration, a fluke or a curious coincidence that may even be attributable to global warming. Mild, cloudless April days in Detroit, Cincinnati or Chicago are rare, but theyíve been hanging around this month. Admit it Ė youíre more energized accomplishing your April yard work when itís 72 degrees rather than 52. Itís the same with ballplayers. (Other than the fact they pay some flunky to mow their lawns.)
Iím willing to accept any of the above theories, if they could be proved. That seems unlikely.
So my suspicious mind wonders.
Ban certain steroids and athletes will look for other, as yet undetectable, artificial means to beefing up, getting an edge, hitting those extra home runs. There are always going to be clean and honest players. The men at the top of the home run list are names without a whiff of scandal. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But, every era also brings those willing to push the envelope. Or rip the envelope in a steroid-induced rage.
Any quality hitter can get hot for two or three weeks, even a month. The questions wonít gather momentum after 10 homers in April. Skepticism will peak if theyíre flirting with 70 (or even 60) home runs in September.
Having been burned by the McGwire/Sammy Sosa love fest, Barry Bondsí ďLife Begins at 35Ē tour and Rafael Palmeiro impersonating Bill Clinton, Iíll remain suspicious.
We love home runs because they are so ingrained in our minds as an enviable feat. Weíve tried to hit a baseball. We all know how rare it is to have the ability to blast it 500 feet. It remains quite a vicarious thrill from the stands.
But weíre not so naÔve anymore. We canít blindly accept that everything and everyone is on the level. Iím suspicious of baseball, and that will only change over time. It must earn my trust back.
Until Iím sure baseball is clean, Iíll refrain from a full embrace and cultivate a backup hobby. Feel free to join me. Iím going to Burger King in search of Elvis.