In honor of this weekend’s Super Bowl, thought I would remind that cheating isn’t peculiar to baseball. Indeed, it seems to be an integral part of the American character:
Football changed from something like soccer or rugby to something like the contemporary American game. What can these changes tell us about Americans and American sport? Among other things, Oriard [Michael Oriard, Reading Football] argues that referees were needed because Americans had a different attitude toward rules than did our British ancestors. British amateur athletes operated on a code of honor associated with the peculiarities of their elitist social class, a code that was as old as the games they layed. Adherence among upper-class British boys to the code of honor was enforced by the captains of each team, and in so doing, both the social nature of the contest and the social status of the players were supported.
Americans, in contrast, had no such social understanding–Americans argue to this day that we are of the “middle class” and so have no code of honor to break. This difference in culture is reflected in our games, and Oriard argues that Americans wish to exploit the rules of the contest as much as they wish to adhere to them.
This perspective is important when judging the “steroid era”. To paraphrase Forrest Gump: cheating is as cheating does. Before we can begin to evaluate the use of performance enhancing substances, we must first examine the longer standing issue of cheating in American sports.
In case you haven’t heard, Arlen Specter is calling for congressional investigation into cheating by the New England Patriots after the NFL inappropriately destroyed evidence regarding illicit taping. You remember Specter, don’t you? He’s the one who came up with the “magic bullet” theory in the Kennedy assassination. Maybe the Pats can make the defense that the camera angle was deflected off someone’s sunglasses reflecting the other team off of a skybox window. Or maybe we can take a serious look at cheating in football, in business, indeed in America.
It appears the entire sporting world is eagerly looking forward to the weekend, not because of the first round of the NFL playoffs, but in anticipation of the burning at the stake of one Roger Clemens. Grand Inquisitor emeritus Mike Wallace is expected to torch Clemens with questions forged from ****. We’re going to get to watch Roger the Dodger’s face as the fire gets hotter, watch the beads of sweat form, the fear in the eyes, the grotesque twitching of the wretched being tortured for a confession, all in High Definition.
On the sports boards I’ve been monitoring the virulence directed at Clemens, who, for the record, I despised and suspected of being a PED abuser long before the Mitchell Report, as anyone who reads this blog well knows. But the boorish curses (“I HATE YOU YOU CHEATER GO BACK TO **** I HOPE YOU DIE…”) from the sporting public remind me of the primates in the stands who launch spittle, epithets and the occasional beer at the players—or the dirty crowds who gathered eagerly to watch the garroting and burning alive of a fellow soul for heresy during the Dark Ages.
There is no Dark Side of the Moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.
— Michael Norton
A while back I asserted there’s no lying in baseball. It warn’t true. If you took all the liars and cheats out of baseball there wouldn’t be enough honest folk left to play with yourself. The game itself, as we know it, is premised on deception. Take what many consider to be the core element of the game, the confrontation between the pitcher and the batter. In the early days of the game the pitcher had to announce his pitch. It didn’t take them long to figure out that the game was much more interesting if the pitcher attempted to fool the batter. You can bet it wasn’t long after that somebody was trying to steal the catcher’s signs.
Like America itself, baseball couldn’t even tell the truth about its origins. Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball anymore than Pilgrims were the first settlers in America. And when that fable was debunked, like compulsive liars they immediately offered another: Alexander Cartwright didn’t invent baseball, either. Indeed there is tantalizing evidence that baseball was played at Jamestown. David Block, in his excellent work Baseball Before We Knew It, recounts how A Polish worker, brought to the settlement for technical assistance, described in his memoirs playing a bat and ball game from Poland, which “even attracted the savages who sat around the field, delighted with this Polish sport.”
The savages—they weren’t quite politically correct in those days—were also adept at bat and ball games of their own. In 1837—two years before Abner Doubleday purportedly invented the game—the novel Female Robinson Crusoe describes Indians (more politically correct) playing a game remarkably like baseball. The Native Americans (almost politically correct) didn’t invent baseball, either. Albert Spalding, the sporting goods magnate who sold the Doubleday myth, was intent on making baseball distinctively American, but the truth is more likely that baseball came to our shores. The Native Peoples (now politically correct) got their ball game from the same place everyone else did.
Their imagination. Some ballyard, huh?
— Michael Norton
I’ve seen a lot of this the last couple of days:
Besides, even if he was cheating — and skeptics can say that he merely moved the substance elsewhere, like the bill of his cap — this is baseball, not golf. The culture of baseball is different than perhaps any other sport in that it tolerates — if not embraces — getting any kind of edge that you can. The runner on second is always going to try to steal a sign from the catcher, and the third-base coach’s signs are fair game for those who can decipher them. The burden is on the umpires and the opposing team to catch the offender; in golf, the onus is on the individual to abide by the honor system. I’m not saying that cheating on your taxes or on your SATs or in anything else that happens in everyday life is right. I’m just saying that’s the way it is in baseball from time immemorial — you cheat until you get caught. And if you don’t get caught, then you get a congratulations for getting away with it. I don’t see the Giants offering to give back the Dodgers the 1951 pennant anytime soon, do you?
Or Bonds giving back #2 to Ruth. Can you cheat at some things, but not others? Can you cheat just a little? What kind, and how much cheating is acceptable? What are the rules regarding cheating? Can you cheat at those rules?
The criticism of Bonds is that he is a petulant jerk. I seem to remember Kenny Rogers assaulting a reporter. Could the difference, like the rules, be black and white?
Think I’ll go golfing…
— Michael Norton
LaRussa broadcasts to the Tigers he doesn’t believe a word of it. On the other hand, he doesn’t complain too loudly. Why? Jason at Baseball & the Boogie Down Bronx points to a clue. Remember, we’re talking about the same LaRussa that managed both Canseco and McGwire in Oakland, and never suspected a thing.
Of course controversy sells newspapers, and tickets. But the great circus here is the lies. No one’s story matches up. Ultimately baseball protects its own.
So why isn’t Rogers as hated as that other "cheater", Bonds? How much evidence do you need for a cheat? The same clump of dirt, in three different games? A head three hat sizes too large? And are some accomplishments so much more significant than others that fans will accept skewed results for one, but not the other.
Maybe Mister Rogers will have his own reality show on ESPN next year.
Check this out from ESPN. Sound familiar?
Major League Baseball on Tuesday took a stand against admitted steroids user Jose Canseco, calling the former slugger’s allegations that the league might be playing favorites with some big-name players when it comes to positive drug tests “complete nonsense.”
Gee, imagine MLB playing favorites…
Said Canseco: “I feel one person can make a difference. I feel one person can change the world. I want Major League Baseball to know I’m not going away that easy.”
Said Levin, “The stuff about Palmeiro is complete fabrication.”
Isn’t that what they said the first time? Does anybody remember Palmeiro wagging his finger at Congress? Or is it everybody in the world that is paranoid? What is it about the people who work for MLB that they just don’t get it? MLB needs a major integrity overhaul. How do we know the fantasy games are on the up-and-up? The arcades? The blogs?
Can anyone believe anything MLB says or does anymore? It is truly a sad commentary that I believe someone like Canseco now more readily than anyone at MLB. And he says:
“There are major problems not with the policies but the individuals who are instituting this policy.” SI, Tip of the Iceberg
I woke up with that sick feeling once again that I had been cuckolded by baseball, that once again I had loved her and she had not loved me back. I’ve felt that way with every strike, with every debacle. Baseball has no sense of fair play. There is no level playing field anywhere. The culture of cheating is simply too pervasive.
And that was before I read the news. — Michael Norton