[I]f there was there was a single reason I am here today, it is because of one word, respect Respect for the game of baseball. When we all played it, it was mandatory. It's something I hope we will one day see again.
Ryne Sandberg upon being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
In my opinion, everyone that plays baseball in this era has been tainted. Not just the people that he has named in the book, I think this whole era over the last 10, 15 or 20 years has been tainted. Regardless of whether you did or you didn't do anything, this whole era will have that label What can you do about it? All I can do is keep playing the game with passion, the way it's supposed to be played, and respect it.
I have never used steroids. Period.
Rafael Palmeiro on Jose Canseco's tell-all book to a House committee on steroids this spring
I am here to make it very clear that I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period.
Rafael Palmeiro yesterday on being suspended for using a banned substance, ostensibly steroids.
Respek is important. But the sad thing is, there's so little respek left in the world that if you looked up the word behind me in the dictionary [i.e., "RESPEK"], you'll find it's been taken out.
All I'm saying is, I see a game every day. I watch baseball every day. I have a better understanding about why things happen than the computer... The computer is only as good as what you put in it. How do you think we got Enron?
Joe Morgan to Tommy Craggs in SF Weekly
Rick Blaine: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
Croupier [handing Renault a pile of money]: Your winnings, sir.
Renault: Thank you.
Let me go out on a limb and say that if I had played during that era I would have taken steroids We all have things we deal with in life, and I'm surely not going to sit here and say, I wouldn't have done that.
Mike Schmidt on "Costas Now"
Ryne Sandberg seemed to have inside information when he strode to the podium to accept his Hall plaque and to commiserate with Cub fans. His theme was "respect". He said the word in one form or another 21 times in his speech as well as eight references to playing the game "the right way."
Maybe it wasn't just a coincidence that the news that Rafael Palmeiro had been suspended for "violating [MLB's] Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program" broke the next day. Certainly, the timing, the day after the Hall inductions and the trade deadline, does remind one of the slight of hand used in Three-Card Monty.
But I think that Sandberg's apparent prescience was merely his tapping into a spirit that permeates and transcends the game today. We live in a fundamentalist world. We have religious fundamentalists everywhere, in the White House, in the Middle East, and yet somehow they can't get along. Now, there is a new kind of fundamentalism: baseball fundamentalism. I'm not talking about baseball purists, in whose company I count myself.
I mean this spirit of "things were better in my day" that seems to have gained a great deal of traction in the sports media and with the fans today. It seems that Sandberg was praying at that altar in order to say something like, "Forget the Joe Morgan allegations. I'm one of the good ones. Accept me." Either that or he's preparing for a run at congress.
There is a stigma, as Palmeiro alluded to in his highly ironic speech to congress, that is associated not only with the individuals found to have used steroids (or "banned substances") but with the game as a whole. Steroids is the bane of baseball's existence, but it's been yoked with player excesses like A-Rod's contracts, and Bonds' record-breaking home run totals.
Witness Sandberg's valedictorian speech:
I didn't play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that's what you're supposed to do, play it right and with respect. If this validates anything, it's that learning how to bunt and hit and run and turning two is more important than knowing where to find the little red light at the dug out camera.
As my friend Murray put it, when did Ryne Sandberg become Jim Bunning anyway? For the record, Sandberg bunted successfully 31 times in 16 seasons and was never in the top ten in any season for sacrifice bunts. Wee Willie Keeler, he aint. But let's not let the facts get in his way, he's running down players today. Continue Sir Ryno.
He does touch on steroids rather obliquely:
When did it become okay for someone to hit home runs and forget how to play the rest of the game? In my day, if a guy came to spring training 20 pounds heavier than what he left, he was considered out of shape and was probably in trouble. He'd be under a microscope and the first time he couldn't beat out a base hit or missed a fly ball, he was probably shipped out. These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third, it's disrespectful to them, to you, and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up. Respect.
Thank you, Ryno G.
So what's different about today, now that "respect for the game" is no longer "mandatory", whatever that means. His bloviations do seem to point to the real boogeyman, the one that turns on that "little red light" on the dugout camera, TV. Or maybe more to the point SportsCenter, which covers the game around the clock, tallies every homer nightly, and daily ranks every great defensive play.
It's the selling of the game in terms of highlight clips and sound bites that's apparently been its undoing. It's led to larger salaries, poorer fundamentals, and more notoriety. It's inadvertently greased the slipper slope towards cutting corners and circumventing the rules. That's what led to steroid use and lower SAT scores, eh?
For analysts like Joe Morgan, it's this slipshod sort of analysis, one not rooting in one's own personal experience of the game but rather in objective analysis, that's led to steroids and, of course, Enron. They all go hand in hand.
Baseball, whether one's playing it or simply conversing about it, is only done one way, the real way or "the right way, the natural way," as Sandberg puts it. Any other way is not only undermining the stature of the game in its natural position as the national pastime, but it calls into question that of the players of the past. That's why they are trying to squelch it with Sandberg and Morgan as mouthpieces.
I never really got it before, but now I do. Steroids equate to gay marriage in the eyes of the baseball establishment. They pervert and twist an institution that they hold dear and in turn taint anyone associated with that institution.
So now we have the poster boy for this perversion, Rafael Palmeiro, the soon-to-be former spokesperson for another performance enhancing substance (Viagra) that's legal so long as Palmeiro doesn't use it in a game. Palmeiro comes tailor-fit for the role: he just entered the ultra exclusive 500 home run/3000 hit club even though until he passed 500 homers, not many supported his Hall of Fame candidacy. He didn't surpass thirty home runs in a season until his seventh as a starter (and had two with just eight each) and didn't break 40 until he was 33 years old. At the age of thirty, he had just 155 career homers. Ten years later, he had nearly four hundred more (551).
Palmeiro's ascendance as a hitter paralleled the era in which he played. His first thirty-homer year was 1993, the start of the greatest home run era in baseball history, the one we are still living in. Of course steroids caused the change in him just as it changed the nature of the sport as a whole.
Never mind that baseball went through two quickie rounds of expansion during that period, including one that brought us the illustrious Devil Ray franchise. Never mind that teams rushed to build new state-of-the-art stadiums that hearkened back to the olden days but had the dimensions of band boxes (and let's not forget Coors Field). Let's not forget that the umpires let the batters destroy the batter's box in the mid-Eighties and crowd the plate and then let the pitchers get away with an ever-evolving, ever-widening, and ever-flattening strike zone ever since. Never mind that the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa "saved" baseball.
Palmeiro will be demonized by writers now and whenever he becomes a Hall of Fame candidate. After winning that battle and being perceived as a first-ballot HoFer, Palmeiro will be stigmatized now and forever. A sort of "Diga que no es verdad, Raffy!"
Given that the possibility of a false positive is close to nil (an expectation of .0081 incidence throughout the entire major league for the entire season based on the numbers that I've seen), it is highly likely that Palmeiro, whether intentionally or not, did use a banned substance. He will have to live with that, but this idea that he should bear a scarlet letter for it is the sort of sanctimonious drivel that really gets under my skin.
I prefer my hypocrisy unalloyed. It reminds me of how the sportswriters turned on Pete Rose after prodding him on to swollen-headed hot-doggery for years. Yes, these players are to blame for their actions, but isn't there enough blame to go round?
I prefer to hear comments from ex-players like Mike Schmidt's above. Schmidt played during an era in which amphetamine use was rampant. They were the performance-enhancing drug of the previous generation, the one that "played the game right" according to Sandberg.
But what can be done? Bill Buckner isn't remembered as fine hitter but rather as the punchline to a joke on the Curse of the Bambino-era Red Sox. Mickey Owen dropped a third strike that led to a World Series loss. Fred Merkle had his baserunning "boner". Fred Snodgrass committed the "$30,000 Muff". Pete Rose gambled on baseball. Sammy Sosa corked his bat. Players cannot choice their legacy.
And now Rafael Palmeiro, no matter what he achieves in the remainder of his career, will ever be remembered as the first big-name player caught for steroid use. It may not be fair, but there it is.
What remains to be seen is how it will affect his Hall candidacy. I have a feeling that he will ultimately overcome the stigmalook at our fondness today for Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man that admitted in court to throwing World Series games. Palmeiro's career stats are what ultimately will be left, and they are overwhelming proof. It's just a matter of how long that will take.
That may depend on how many more players get caught and how long it takes baseball to get over this long-lasting PR nightmare. Until then we are just going to have to last through speeches on respect and playing the game the right way.
Hypocrisy is the essence of snobbery, but all snobbery is about the problem of belonging.