I woke up to the news about Manny Ramirez and I could only laugh.
I laugh at the suckers who are such fervent baseball fans that they sit on hold for an hour waiting to give their opinions on sports radio shows.
I giggle at all you maroons who think that these guys could care less about your city…or what team they play for…as long as they get the biggest contracts they possibly can.
I laugh at the people who devour books and TV shows with names like The Last Good Season or When It Was a Game. (These should have been titled Back When Baseball Was Good…Because They Didn’t Let Minorities In or When We Were Naïve.)
There is nothing funnier than walking around New York City and seeing the yutzes walking around with hideous blue and orange teamwear of the New York Mets because they want you to know who they support no matter how horrific it makes them look.
I cackle at anyone who thinks the Chicago Cubs have a chance this year or any year when the ownerships of each era have figured out that the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field will be full whether they win or not. Does it really matter if they win? Wouldn’t Wrigley be fun to go to in any case?
The finger waggers attacking Manny now are beyond hypocritical. Babe Ruth had syphilis, drank like a fish, and he was swollen like a balloon. Mickey Mantle played regularly with hangovers. According to ESPN.com, in spring training in 1907, Ty Cobb, “considered a racist by many, fought a black groundskeeper over the condition of the Tigers' spring training field in Augusta, Ga., and ended up choking the man's wife when she intervened.” (Ah…when it was a game!) Today’s baseball fans worry about whether Alex Rodriguez is out with strippers or getting Kabbalah lessons late at night from Madonna. Hilarious!
You may find it hard to believe that I am a baseball fan. I’ve been watching it since I can remember and I still do. I go to the games. I follow the Dodgers. I am in love with Dodger Stadium, which is more popular than any player who ever played for the Dodgers because Chavez Ravine is simply the best place in the world to watch a game. I kneel at the altar of Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster of all time. But I am not a fool.
I watch baseball because it is fun to watch, like a good concert. I sit out in the sun, pound a few beers, bat the beach ball around when things get slow, get a beer during the drum solos, er, I mean, the pitching changes. Baseball is, and has always been, a big, fat marketing extravaganza. Never mind that I love it and patronize it. It is a business first and foremost, and it always has been, including the days when the Dodgers played in that shithole everyone loves to rhapsodize about in Brooklyn. (Never mind the shithole in which the Red Sox still play.)
Baseball’s team owners are just like any other businessmen; they want to make as much money as possible. The players are just like us. They want to go to work for the company that pays them the most for producing the least. The only difference between us and them is this: we who wrinkle our noses at the boss when he calls us into the conference room to engage in “team-building exercises” down at the job want to believe that a baseball team is, indeed, a team. We want to believe that the employees of these companies have barbecues together and visit each other during the off-season and that the Red Sox players really, really hate the Yankees. When outfielder Johnny Damon played for the Red Sox, Boston fans thought he really, really hated the Yankees. Then, the Yankees offered him around $13 million a year to leave Boston. Now, Yankee fans want to believe that Damon really, really hates the Red Sox. Stop it boys…you’re killing me!
The real truth is that, beginning with Jim Bouton’s seminal book Ball Four in 1970, and continuing into the era of 24 hour cable news and sports channels, we now have unprecedented access to athletes’ lives and we don’t like it because we now know what the backslapping journalists of the Babe’s day were hiding from us: that athletes are only human just like us.
And who are we? For the most part, the only people who worry about performance enhancing substances are the older fans who believed the Field of Dreams myth that professional baseball was, at one time, some kind of pure pastoral experience that has somehow been ruined in recent years. You know the type: the old guys who still buy a pencil and a program at the game so they can “keep score.” (Apparently, no one told them about the behemoth HD scoreboards stadiums have nowadays.)
If we are younger, we are pot-smoking, energy drink-swilling caffeinated individuals for whom baseball is a day of entertainment in the sun with ten beers, a joint, and some sunscreen, but it’s not a religion. The idea of statistics that go back to the late 1800s is beyond quaint for the average young American; it’s not even on their radar screens. Do you think it matters to those under 50 whether Manny's home runs and RBIs while using a banned substance should "count"? You're kidding, right?
The Manny Ramirez story, in fact, the whole steroids in baseball story, is much ado about nothing. Who are we to criticize athletes for doing whatever they can to make $25 million? Most of us wouldn’t do exactly the same thing?
In hockey, you give someone a face wash and, if you get caught, you get two minutes for roughing, you bad boy. Then, you get back on the ice. Does anyone think that Eric Clapton shouldn’t be in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame because he may have shot heroin before playing Bell Bottom Blues? Does it make him any less good? Did you enjoy his work any less? You probably enjoyed it more.
If Manny Ramirez played chicken with the authorities of Major League Baseball, so be it. The suckers in Boston will say that they “knew it all along” but will flinch when we ask them if they’d like to give back their two championships with Manny because they may be tainted. In Los Angeles, here is the reality: whatever Manny took, he will say he is sorry, do his time, and then he will be welcomed back by Dodger fans with open arms on July 3rd. Vin Scully will be there. I will be there. Badly-dressed Met fans will still be badly-dressed Met fans no matter what drugs Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry took. And life will go on.