|04-19-2006, 02:27 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
A column by Reggie Hayes
Baseball’s home-run derby lives, and Elvis haunts me.
“We can’t go on together with suspicious minds,
“And we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds.”
If you’re old enough to know that Elvis Presley song, I apologize for sticking those lyrics in your head. They’ll be there two hours, minimum. But, it could be worse. I could have quoted “Hound Dog.”
If you’re not old enough to remember thin, fat or extra-crispy Elvis, you’ll get the idea anyway.
The song is about a relationship lacking in trust. That’s how I feel about Major League Baseball.
I’m 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 Tigers’ Chris Shelton, formerly known as “Who’s Chris Shelton?”
Now, I’m not saying Shelton uses steroids. He doesn’t 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 Cardinals’ Albert Pujols, the Reds’ Adam Dunn, the White Sox’s Jim Thome and the Indians’ 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 baseball’s effort to undermine advances generated by pharmaceutical means?
One theory says the ball itself is juiced, that baseball officials couldn’t 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 they’ve been hanging around this month. Admit it – you’re more energized accomplishing your April yard work when it’s 72 degrees rather than 52. It’s the same with ballplayers. (Other than the fact they pay some flunky to mow their lawns.)
I’m 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 won’t gather momentum after 10 homers in April. Skepticism will peak if they’re flirting with 70 (or even 60) home runs in September.
Having been burned by the McGwire/Sammy Sosa love fest, Barry Bonds’ “Life Begins at 35” tour and Rafael Palmeiro impersonating Bill Clinton, I’ll remain suspicious.
We love home runs because they are so ingrained in our minds as an enviable feat. We’ve 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 we’re not so naïve anymore. We can’t blindly accept that everything and everyone is on the level. I’m suspicious of baseball, and that will only change over time. It must earn my trust back.
Until I’m sure baseball is clean, I’ll refrain from a full embrace and cultivate a backup hobby. Feel free to join me. I’m going to Burger King in search of Elvis.
This is the Cal Ripkin Jr. of typos.
If you ask me to join your fantasy baseball league and I select Legolas in the first round, don't be angry at me. It's not my fault I've read up on the players and you haven't.