Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA for
January 4, 2008
Shoeless Joe Forevermore
In American life, there are no second acts
F. Scott Fitzgerald
It’s odd that the man who wrote what is arguably The Great American Novel --The Great Gatsby --could have gotten it so wrong. In American life, there is nothing BUT second acts. Certainly, in our Era of No Accountability, we no longer bother to put paper bags over people’s heads for even five minutes of earned shame before banishment into the outer darkness of a well deserved obscurity. Nope, instead, it’s a quick appearance on Oprah for some tear-spilling phony repentance, followed by a multi-million dollar book contract and a very lucrative post-sin life speechifying on the rubber chicken circuit.
And I suspect that trait of No Accountability and Nothing BUT Second Acts preceded Fitzgerald. After all, the first Great American Novel was Huckleberry Finn. And when Finn, the quintessential American character, needed a second act, he simply “lit out for the territory.” No accountability there. Book contract to follow.
Add in a few other Great American Traits – our love of Money & Winning at All Costs, our Addiction to Fame, even fifteen minutes of it, and, ironically, our extraordinary tolerance for pious, hypocritical humbug – and you’ve got the present “Baseball Doping Scandal” in a nutshell.
The sports writers had a ball, all that hand-wringing --Baseball’s ruined! Black clouds of shame are hanging over our national pastime! The sport is tainted forever! -- while one column over from their jeremiads was a story on how management was busy signing multi-million dollar contracts for next year with some of the dopers just named in the Mitchell report. So much for taint. Forget accountability. Time to move on. Too much money at stake here for both players and management. Batter up!
And the fans? Well, they don’t care. Was their hero’s bulked up socko performance the result of chemicals? So what? Socko’s all that counts nowadays. And, anyway, everybody’s doin’ it, including the rest of pill-popping America; everyone looking for that edge, that boost, that little secret needed to make the big win, the big score, by any means necessary. You only go around once, grab for the gusto, even if it comes out of a container of pills, a bottle of booze, or the end of a syringe.
And there, of course, is the real tragedy when a “sport” gets steroided up into Bottom Line Big Business – professional boxers brain damaged at 40, football players’ ruined bodies turning them into broken old men at 30, careers gone in a flash leaving the players with years of pain, diminished capacity, their livelihood gone. They don’t call them the Boys of Summer for nothing. Like mayflies, too many athletes’ professional lives are equally brief. And how many ball players are more than willing to accept a lifetime of disability that comes with trading their health and future for that dream slot in Cooperstown? That, and a $36 million contract?
Ironically, baseball is particularly vulnerable to “taint” since it is a sport of record-keeping, of minutia. Whole games can be resurrected and replayed from out of the distant past, all based on those records, every strike-out, every ball, every walk or hit or bunt recorded faithfully by record-obsessed fans. Who played what, where, and how the weather was.
So it is a particular irony that those records will now forever be suspect. After all, how can you indulge in the game of Let’s Compare Players when you suspect one of them somehow magically changed his neck size from “normal” to Hulk in a matter of months? Should we now handicap each hit and start a new Cooperstown record? Plus ten points for proven clean; minus 7.9 points for steroid-dirty; 6.8 for HGF enhanced; and 4.5 for suspect?
And what does it matter anyway? If it’s all about money and fame, two things that almost always corrupt everything they touch, why should we even bother? Except to indulge our love of pious humbug – Aw, say it ain’t so, Joe, -- wink-nudge – followed by some pretend accountability before lighting out for the territory for another act, big money contract in hand.
Pass the syringe, and Play ball!