Of course the news that our $103 million dollar man has his stuff again on the mound was overshadowed by the media flap which ensued when another of our star pitchers (I wanted to say "our other star", but with Josh Beckett having gone 7-0 thus far this season that wouldn't really be fair now, would it?) Curt Schilling ripped San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds during a phone interview with WEEI on Wednesday morning for his steroid use, saying:
"... There’s no gray area. He admitted to cheating on his wife, cheating on his taxes, and cheating on the game... And I don’t care that he’s black, or green, or purple, or yellow, or whatever."
Schilling has since apologized for this statement on his blog after having the heat from both the national sports media and Red Sox management, but aside from his unfortunate choice to drag Bonds' personal and family life into the issue Curt was absolutely right to call the man out for cheapening the game by using performance-enhancing drugs.
It's clear that Major League Baseball and the Players' Asssociation have both chosen to circle the wagons on this issue lest it cut into their precious bottom line when fans realize that most of the "achievements" of the past 10-15 years of baseball were courtesy of the BALCO Company (Boston is already feeling a little squeamish in the wake of David "Big Papi" Ortiz's revelation that he may or may not have been using steroids back in the Dominican Republic - how long until we find out that the whole 2004 roster was juicing, I wonder? I don't even want to think about that, but isn't it strange how much weight our lineup seemed to lose collectively between Fall 2004 and Spring 2005). So when a player actually steps up and says what we're all thinking is it any surprise how savagely he gets attacked by baseball's Powers That Be™?
My favorite line of argument coming from Schilling's detractors and Bonds' defenders is that all of this is somehow racially motivated - King Kaufman, Salon sports columnist and a longtime apologist for Barry Bonds, recently pointed to an ESPN-ABC News poll that seems to confirm these suspicions by showing that black baseball fans were twice as likely as white fans to root for Bonds and half as likely to think he knowingly used steroids to enhance his performance at the plate. Of course Kaufman and others are conveniently forgetting that fact that the record that Bonds is chasing is already held by an African-American, who for the record wants nothing to do with Barry Bonds himself! So does this make Hank Aaron a racist as well?
This has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the soul of baseball hanging in the balance. When we said nothing as Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and then Barry Bonds shattered Roger Maris' old record of 61 home runs in a season because "it was good for baseball", we knew something was fundamentally wrong with the sport but chose to look the other way - or as McGuire himself so presciently said on an episode of the Simpsons: "Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?" At the time we, like the fictional citizens of Springfield, chose the dingers.
Now several years later McGuire's legacy is tarnished (thanks to his evasions during the BALCO testimony which will likely cost him his admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame) and Sosa is a joke (as if juicing weren't bad enough, Sammy was caught "accidentally" using a corked bat back in 2003), and we're supposed to feel sorry or even guilty because the third of this trio of phonies is finally getting the scrutiny he deserved all along?
The only thing anyone should be sorry about is how low we've allowed baseball to sink . Or as Eric Wilbur closes in his fantastic essay yesterday on Boston.com:
Whether it be a matter of just defending an athlete about to do something that’s supposed to be special or blindly refusing to admit there’s a problem with the game that you call the backbone of your existence, one thing is clear: If you have your head in the sand at this stage of the game, there’s nothing anyone can do to help you. You’re a lost cause, and frankly, if you’re that clueless I’m not sure the rest of us really want you joining our team. You know, the one based in Reality. Plays in Obvious Park. Have fun at Pac Bell though.