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Enough Already. Nobody Cares.

[ 9 ] March 2, 2010 |

There are valid reasons, related to public health, to be concerned about athletes using PEDs. These reasons probably justify some measure of paternalism with respect to amateur athletes, and may be good reasons for professional athletes and leagues to agree to a ban and testing regime (although whether they want to or not is their business.) Particularly where baseball is concerned, though, the hysteria about steroids has little to do with health and a great deal to do with bizarre myths about purity, about the frankly absurd idea that the use of steroids somehow constitutes something new or uniquely distorts statistical achievements or takes the “magic” out of the game or some such.

These arguments are pretty annoying in themselves. But combine them with blurry-eyed nostalgia about the Only Great Era In Baseball History, i.e. the time in which an especially narcissistic generation of New York writers were growing up, and things get positively painful. I give you Pete Hamill:

A long time ago in America, there was a beautiful game called baseball. This was before 30 major-league teams were scattered in a blurry variety of divisions; before 162-game seasons and extended playoffs and fans who watched World Series games in thick down jackets; before the D.H. came to the American League; before AstroTurf on baseball fields and aluminum bats on sandlots; before complete games by pitchers were a rarity; before ballparks were named for corporations instead of individuals; and long, long before the innocence of the game was permanently stained by the filthy deception of steroids.

This is pretty much reactionary bullshit from beginning to end (Adding 8 games to the regular season destroys the purity of baseball? Baseball is no longer beautiful if a starting pitcher throws 7 innings?) The stuff about baseball being “innocent” before some players used steroids is of course especially embarrassing, like people who think that America “lost its innocence” not, say, when the framers agreed to a constitution that protected slavery but when they found out as kids that TV game shows weren’t on the level. But what really gives away the show, I think, is the complaint about too many teams. In large measure, this complaint is about New York sportswriters craving a return to to what Ken Burns called “the Capital of Baseball” era — the 2/3rds of the 50s in which baseball was completely dominated by New York teams and large parts of the nation were deprived of major league baseball. This New York domination was terrible for baseball, of course, creating stagnating or declining attendance during a boom economy, but this is something we’re never supposed to notice. And to draw a line under it, he devotes another long paragraph to the elevently-billionth assertion that the Brooklyn Dodgers mattered more than any team has ever mattered to anyone ever, although this has nothing to do with either Willie Mays or the book under review.

Hammil’s whining about how the magic and innocence of baseball were destroyed by steroids is the whining of someone who is not in any meaningful sense a baseball fan at all, and to make that clear he amusingly notes that he also pretty much stopped watching baseball in 1957. I guess baseball’s innocence is kind of like “born-again” virginity (although, in fairness, your team leaving is a better reason to be upset than players using different kinds of drugs than your childhood heroes used.) Why the Times didn’t give the review assignment to someone who knows something about baseball rather than someone who would use the forum to indulge in puerile nostalgia for the most over-discussed era (Jackie Robinson aside) in the sport’s history I can’t say. For those who don’t click through, I think Greil Marcus on Don Henley provides an adequate analysis:

While it’s well known that as one gets older, one tends to find changes in the world at large unsettling, confusing, fucking irritating, a rebuke to one’s very existence, it’s generally not a good idea to make a career out of saying so.

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  1. [...] is actually a significant part of my childhood, not of course because of his starring role on the Only Team That Ever Mattered (and we shouldn’t forget the 140+ OPS he put up for the surprise World Champion Dodgers [...]

  2. [...] except that this might faintly damn it through pigeonholing.    And I say this as someone who is very, very sick of Brooklyn Dodger-related nostalgia. Share and [...]

  3. [...] “transformed” into a conservative more often than baseball (and, therefore, America) have Lost Their Innocence. But, in fairness, without this transformation he could not have brought us original, not at all [...]

  4. The Pale Scot says:

    Speaking for S.W.I.M., while bennies might keep one awake enough to play the umpteenth inning in right field, they’re not gonna help you get the HR title. The comparison between steroids and dex doesn’t hold.

  5. Douglas says:

    While I might as well wax nostalgic for the baseball of MY youth (late 60′s to early 80′s), it doesn’t take away my appreciation of the game TODAY. My formative years were first in suburban DC, where I got an unhealthy dose of that abortive attempt to keep baseball in the nation’s capital…we did get Frank Howard peppering the upper deck of RFK with howitzer shots, which Bob Short duly ordered the applicable seat painted. But THAT version of the Senators, which mercifully for them found greener pastures in the DFW metroplex, epitomized the joke about Washington being “first in war, first in peace, and LAST in the American League (East)”. At least we also had the Orioles, which I could get their games with often fuzzy reception, and it was them I followed religiously. I remember agonizing over the “Miracle Mets” in ’69 and the Pirates making the ‘Birds “walk the plank” in ’71…but what a wrecking crew they were! And then my Dad got transferred (he was career Air Force) to Central Florida, and it was pretty much the Braves and Curt Gowdy calling the game of the week on NBC. ‘Nuff said.
    The younger generation has as much right to venerate THEIR boyhood heroes, steroids and all. Baseball merely reflects the faults in American society, as we pick our ballplayers, managers, and management from the human race. In the case of the first two, we’ve handicapped ourselves by limited it to the male portion. Get over it, you self-righteous twits. Steroids happened, but there’s no empirical proof and questionable correlation that their use deviated baseball statistics. There are many other factors that have changed the nature of the typical ballplayer of today. He is larger, faster, and stronger than his father’s era. Indeed, most could suit up on an NFL team from the 70′s! A-Rod, who finally admitted what was commonly assumed, that he too, had “indulged”, is still an athletic man who is 6’3″ and 225 lbs. In the “Golden Era” of the ‘Birds, he would have been only slightly smaller than the then-”hulking” John Wesley “Boog” Powell (6’4″ and 230 lbs). Playing short or third, A-Rod would have been a freak in 1969.
    Nostalgia is great for recalling fonder times of one’s youth but it’s no excuse for myopia when the grey hairs show.

  6. [...] Tanenhaus has a piece about presidential war powers that helps me understand why he commissioned a review of a bio of Willie Mays that consisted mostly of nostalgic blubbering about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the horrors of relief [...]

  7. [...] to lots of drearily irritating attacks on baseball. For me, the ultimate example has to be the bizarre review of a recent biography of Willie Mays by the normally outstanding journalist Pete Hamill.  As [...]

  8. [...] was clearly a PED user, although he used the kind of PEDs anti-PED hysterics find acceptable because LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE GLORIOUS BROOKLYN DODGERS THE ONLY TEAM ANYONE HAS EVER CARED ABOUT [...]

  9. […] know, I said this would happen after baseball left Brooklyn and the only fans who have ever cared about a team ever. They didn’t believe me. But, first […]

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