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Buried amid all the dropped towels, flying fists and chemical record-breaking of recent weeks was the release of the latest baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Among the 12 new names were such notables as Wade Boggs, Willie McGee and Darryl Strawberry. But among those stars, one name stood out in my bloodshot orbs.
There was a merry little pie fight in this space after I proclaimed that Curt Schilling had rendered himself Cooperstown bronze with his blood-soaked playoff heroics. I'm willing to court another face full of custard by saying that I could view a plaque bearing Abbott's name and feel warm inside.
Before you unleash the pastry, let me say I'm aware that Abbott's career record is 87-108 with a 4.25 ERA, and that he never won 20 games (his best: 18-11, 2.89 in 1991) or pitched in a postseason game. He did, however, toss a no-hitter for the Yankees against Cleveland in 1993. Not bad for a guy who was born without a right hand and overcame doubts all the way from Little League to the majors, where he fielded his position capably while pitching for 10 seasons. He even hit a 400-foot triple.
I know physically challenged athletes ask only to be seen as athletes, but Abbott succeeded where countless two-handed players have failed. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted him out of high school, but he chose to go to the University of Michigan where he became the first baseball player to win the Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete. He arrived in the majors with the California Angels in '89 after winning the gold medal game at the '88 Summer Olympics, the first international gold for the U.S. baseball team in 14 years, and handled a landslide of media coverage with grace and patience.
Sure, his numbers fall absurdly short of Cooperstown-worthy, but numbers leave me cold. I like some flesh and blood and legend on my plaques, and Abbott's place in baseball history transcends mere digits. He is still the most successful player of his kind since Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. OK, I've gone fuzzy, but a vote for Abbott would not be a crime against the soul.
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Last week's column generated a blizzard of feedback on the subject of cheating. I've read it all and I extend hearty thanks to all who wrote in, even Debra Russo of Brooklyn, NY, who pointedly opined, "If you don't think there is a difference between a grease ball and Bonds on the juice, then you need to stop smokin' the crack!"
Framing my Gaylord Perry vs. Barry Bonds debate in legal terms, Sean O'Bannon of New York, NY, noted, "There is a difference between jaywalking and grand larceny."
Aye, there's the rub of the cream. It's clear: Bonds may have allegedly broken the law, but not the rules. Perry broke the rules, but not the law. I was merely wondering why so many folks insist that Bonds' records be immaculate when Perry's 314 wins, two Cy Youngs, and no-hitter can be slathered in Vaseline and ushered into the Hall without asterisks. Cheating is cheating is cheating. Whether you fill your cap with grease or your body with steroids, the intent is the same: to boost your performance beyond what it would be if you were not playing loosey-goosey with the rules, or the law.
The most commonly expressed sentiment is that a little cheatin' ain't no biggie if you don't disturb the immortals, but steroids are a whole lotta cheatin', especially when you're assaulting a hallowed mark like Hank Aaron's.
"Bonds is after the pinnacle," wrote Dan from Montclair, NJ. "Ruth and Aaron deserve better. Bonds falls into the debate of 'best ever' -- that's rare air and he ought to be held to standards."
"I don't grasp your gigantic leap from players who have bent uniform or equipment rules to a player who has essentially mutated his body to become the greatest offensive player in history," added Mike from Athens, Ga. "Sosa's corked bat I can overlook fairly easily. A 35-year old man gaining 40 pounds of rip, I cannot."
The degree of advantage any method of cheating affords is open to debate, but it's probably safe to say Bonds would not have sniffed Ruth without his flaxseed oil just as Perry would not have reached Cooperstown without his good old-fashioned medicated goo. Bonds likely gained his biggest edge in his ability to sustain a maniacal workout regimen that maximizes his prodigious talents, particularly his keen eye and hellacious bat speed. Yet players who set records by crooked means validate the greatness of those who don't.
Have a question or opinion for John? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
Just a hunch, but if baseball truly cracks down on steroids, I think we'll see a lot of beefy sluggers go south while their power numbers shrink like their gonads.
Nearly everyone is disgusted by players' disregard of the physical dangers and their potentially bad influence on young athletes. But bad stuff never happens in a vacuum, and readers cited smaller parks, the juiced ball, the DH in interleague play, expansion pitching, extended use of middle relievers and a smaller strike zone as factors in glorifying the power game and producing a rich incentive for juicing.
Many decried the media's "vendetta" against Bonds and other stratospherically-paid athletes, as well as its hypocrisy. "That one of your profession would use illegally leaked grand jury testimony is a crime that is much more far-reaching a story than silly steroid users who PLAY A GAME!" wrote Richard J. Kecher of Branchville, NJ. "Both are illegal and immoral. The tactic of obtaining stories by breaking the law is disturbing."
Agreed. Not to give anyone a pass, but humanity is prey to a fear of failure that compels people in all walks of life to break rules and laws because they're mistakenly convinced their natural abilities won't be good enough. As for the vendetta, Bonds is a classic case of getting run over by your karma. He would have been better off if he had pulled a Steve Carlton years ago and stopped talking. All he's done by tangling horns with the media is feed the payback monster. But baseball will survive. The grand old game has shot itself in the cleats many times and still has several toes left, as well as its heels.