Yep. Read this Bill James piece on forgiveness. It’s subscription only, $3 bucks a month, by the way, (if you haven’t already signed up, what are you waiting for?) Anyway, here’s a small taste:
…. I’m not any better than Bill Singer, and I’m not any better than Al Campanis, and I’m not any better than Marge Schott.
That, it seems to me, is what is missing from the Barry Bonds debate: Forgiveness. I’m not any better than Barry Bonds, and I’m not any better than Mark McGwire, and I’m not any better than Roger Clemens, and I’m not any better than Pete Rose, either. You give me the opportunity to earn $22 million a year by taking steroids, I’ll shoot the pharmacist if I have to. I’m not saying it’s right.
I wasn’t writing about forgiveness when I wrote back three years ago, but reading Bill this morning made me think of it:
…. Virtually any athlete in any sport will do just about anything to be the best of the best, and a manager or coach will push them to do so. Some athletes will push the envelope only so far, while others will throw it away, and risk their very lives, if they truly believed it would make a difference, the difference between winning and losing. We, as fans, not only ask this of them, we demand it. Their coaches demand it, their teammates demand it, the game demands it. Be the best, win at all costs, do whatever it takes; these are the credo of virtually every championship-caliber player, coach, or team.
And now, hysterical media-types are fanning the flames of controversy; “Oh no, it looks like so and so really did do whatever it takes. Shame on him!” Please. Don’t insult my inteligence. Of course he or she did, what did you expect? The only difference between what one athlete will risk as opposed to another is based on their own personal decision-making values. As for their choice, I’d ask you; is it appropriate for one person to decide what another should be willing to risk? Is it OK for you to tell me what I should be willing to do to improve my life, my career, my earning potential? Not in my book, it isn’t, not as long as my actions don’t harm anyone else, or take from anyone else.
In the five years prior to 1997, Mark McGwire played 139, 27, 47, 104, and 130 games. Was it his use of andro (or steroids) that allowed him to play 156, 155 and 153 over the next three, hitting 58, 70 and 65 home runs? During those five injury-riddled seasons, he hit a home run every 9.44 AB’s. In the next three, in which he played almost every game, he hit a home run every 8.17 at bats, not a tremendous difference. He stopped using andro sometime during the end of the 1998 season, right? Only one full season later, he was back on the injured list, and his career was over by 2001. If his use of andro enabled him to stay healthy enough and strong enough to get enough at bats to break Roger Maris’ record, how exactly was that wrong? Why should Mark McGwire give up his right to do whatever he can to help his body heal itself and stay strong enough to endure the rigors of baseball, his chosen profession? If there are risks involved, why shouldn’t he be the one to decide if they are worth it? It’s his life!
I think the parallels between the two trains of thought are there. Personal choice, forgiveness, self-righteousness, moralizing….
Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, any and all of our superstars are often found wanting by an increasingly vigilant media, one that is never satisfied, always hungry for more scandal. No one can understand what it’s truly like to be a superstar of the highest order, sportswriters try and try to find ways to describe it, but in the end, are still wanting.
And in the end, they focus on what they can understand, flaws. Railing about how A-Rod cheats on his wife is one way to make him seem more normal, more like us. Attacking Bonds for being such an asshole is an easy way to make it seem like he’s no better than anybody else, or even worse. It’s lazy, it’s wrong, and it adds nothing to anyone’s understanding, and any kind of editor should put a stop to it, but not anymore.
In today’s media, everyone takes the low road, moralizing and posturing instead of offering understanding, instead of investigating. Well, almost everyone.