Friday, December 21, 2007

Paradox by the ballpark lights …

If somebody from another planet were to spend any time observing human nature, chances are he would come away thinking that human beings are a living, breathing, contradiction. One of the first lessons we learn regarding the social aspect of life is that reporting the misdeeds of others is taboo.

When we’re a kid, we’re told ‘Don’t be a tattle-tale.’ As we get older, we refer to people do engage in such activity as ‘rats’, ‘snitches’, ‘sell-outs’ and worse. If a friend is pursuing a self-destructive course, we may speak with them, but we will never turn them in so they have little recourse but to confront their demons. Generally, we will--while trying to help the person--slowly, painfully watch the person self-destruct.

By the time we reach adulthood this lesson has been drummed into our collective skulls. If our silence will protect a friend or family member while allowing somebody we don’t know (or like) to take the fall for their sins--then so be it. Rare is the person who will risk ostracism to come forward with the truth.

It’s understood within the framework of professional sports that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. If a teammate is jeopardizing his health, his marriage, breaking the law or something else--it stays in-house. We look at the whole Mitchell Report and the fallout from it and other revelations; Jose Canseco, Jason Grimsley, Brian McNamee, Kirk Radomski and others are (or soon will be) persona non grata in the sport.


They spilt the beans--a social no-no. In today’s society they’re called ‘whistle-blowers’ and all too often they aren’t rewarded and often penalized. Despite coming forward with the truth, they’re viewed as untrustworthy. They become social lepers for becoming among the lowest forms of humanity--the stool pigeon.

It makes me think about the saga of Buck Weaver of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. He was permanently banned from the game, not for participating in the fix, but rather he didn’t blow the whistle regarding what he knew. Some may feel that it served him right and should have stood up and said something.

However, what do we hear the most growing up, ‘stand up and say something’ or something to the effect of ‘don’t be a snitch’? What did we hear from our peers in elementary school, high school, in the workplace etc? What we hear time and again is not to rat out to ‘the man,’ that entity being the authority placed in its position with the mandate to level sanctions against the type of behaviour that we, or somebody we know may be engaging in.

The thing is, when some scandal or other erupts, we hear the same refrain repeatedly: ‘How could something like this happen?’ ‘Why did it go on so long?’ ‘Why didn’t somebody speak up??

The answer is simple--those are the rules we grew up with; we don’t report what happened, we never intend to, and we don’t wish to become outcasts by blowing the whistle. This is precisely how things like steroids in MLB happen--everybody is following the rules society has taught them. It really is a no-win situation for people ‘in the loop.’ They have one of two choices--be part of a cover up or be a snitch. One generally results in official reprimand, the other peer (reprimand). If we receive penalty from 'the man’ our peer group will generally stand by us--if we’re damned by our peers, then ‘the man’ casts us aside when we are no longer useful to them.

Nobody wants us at that point. Our utility to the authorities is gone as is our standing among our social network--and we’re left to contemplate the repercussions of our decision with no one to commiserate with us.

Not much of a reward is it?

This is why I have trouble with levelling penalties with extreme prejudice regarding the steroid scandal. For every Swede Risberg and Chick Gandil--there’s a Buck Weaver. For every user there is somebody who is aware of that and is scrupulously following the rules he has been taught by his peers his entire life. The conditioning to keep our mouths shut—don’t ask and don’t tell. If it’s violated in some small way when we’re kids we’re buried in vitriol, and smacked upside the head as a reminder of the importance of not being a rat. Come adulthood it becomes almost instinctive.

If people wish to bar the doors to the dirty steroid users then it’s only right and fair that past precedent regarding such matters be followed. The Buck Weavers of the steroid era are lumped in with the rest. As we learned in the Mitchell Report--everybody knew. Juicing was “widespread” according to Mitchell--that being the case there are a lot of Buck Weavers out there. We saw Buck Weaver before the Senate committee a few years back. We’ve read about Buck Weaver in Mitchell’s Report. He’s one of the eight, one of the 85, one of them--a member of the Black Syringes.

As I’ve written before, major league baseball screwed up royally--a world-class fustercluck if there ever was one. We will never know the entire story because the Buck Weavers are still out there living by the code they have been taught since infancy.

If baseball really wants to handle this situation correctly, here is what should happen. Open a Grand Jury and involve the commissioner’s office and the MLBPA. Amnesty with a contractual promise that no penalties now or ever for everyone who testifies truthfully--player and executive alike both inside and outside of the game. If it comes out that somebody allegedly lied, there is a hearing where that person can defend themselves and cross-examine his accusers. If it is proven that the accusation is correct--that person is at the mercy of the commissioner’s office and any law enforcement agencies involved.

This way it will be much easier to take steps that this doesn’t happen again. In my personal opinion, segregation is a far bigger scandal and did more damage to the game than performance-enhancing drugs. We learned from the saga of Jackie Robinson that a lot of players liked to keep things segregated. If we can leave that scandal and move on, we can do likewise with this one. Both had a major impact on the record book and statistics. Just as we know that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in a segregated game, Hank Aaron hit 755 in a game rife with amphetamines--we know that Bonds hit 762 in a steroid-fueled game.

Those numbers are what they are--a product of their time.

Best Regards


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