The Grand Illusion
"How do we believe you because you lied, lied, lied, lied? Roger Clemens is a baseball titan...."
Watching The Rocket fighting to preserve what's left of his rapidly-shrinking image, it occurred to me that it's a tall and often futile order to lay claim to the sainthood that is so often bestowed upon great athletes. As history -- and this photo gallery -- prove, talent often comes packaged in inverse proportion to character, and any and all personal flaws and dirty deeds will ultimately be dragged out and feasted upon by a society that loves to fatten and then devour its celebrities.
I certainly don't know if Clemens actually did any of the things of which he is accused -- use illegal performance-enhancers, consort with extramarital squeezes -- but I feel reasonably sure that he's a human being. Human beings -- particularly young, talented, famous, wealthy and often spoiled human beings -- are prey to temptations of abudantly-offerred flesh and fears of losing their status, along with the garden-variety silliness that bedevils the rest of us. For them to claim immunity to the siren calls of cheating (at sports or sex), is disingenuous, naïve or some mix of both.
Yes, penalties come factory-installed with such activities, but honesty and taking responsibility, something Clemens is starting to exhibit, is the surest path to forgiveness and redemption.
Guilty or not, Clemens now finds himself in some pretty, um, great company. You can actually stock an entire 25-man roster plus a manager, GM, owner, trainer and mascot with notables who have had their careers inextricably linked to scandal of some kind. And it's basically an unbeatable Cooperstown-worthy (in most cases) squad. That brings us to a little bit of ironic illumination:
Fun tale to know and tell, courtesy of a musty old volume entitled Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour (1960, Oxford University Press):
In 1889, a group of notables and celebrities, including Mark Twain, gathered at a New York City restaurant to salute a group of pro ballplayers who had just returned from a tour that took them to Hawaii, Australia, Egypt and England. It was here that sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spalding, in cahoots with National League President Abraham G. Mills, decided it would be righteous, and not to mention profitable, to foster the attractively patriotic idea that baseball was invented entirely right here in the U.S. of A.
Nevermind that noted writer Henry Chadwick was offering ample evidence that the game was descended from British rounders. In 1903, Mills put together a blue ribbon commission -- that included two U.S. senators -- to gather evidence to support his case for a Made in USA label.
The evidence basically consisted of three years worth of hearsay, the most decisive of which came from an old coot named Abner Graves, who swore that a fellow named Abner Doubleday (no relation to former Padres outfielder Shawn Abner) created baseball one day in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York.
Nevermind that Doubleday was attending West Point at the time, or that he never mentioned the game. The less sexy evidence that Alexander Cartwright cobbled together the original rounders-based rules in New York City in 1845 was conveniently ignored when it came time to honor the centennial of baseball's birth and dedicate the sport's new Hall of Fame.
So it's only fitting that baseball's shrine to its immortals was founded on an illusion -- since disproved, of course, but the myth endured well into the 1950s. Baseball's claim to being Our National Pastime seems perfect for a country built on appearance -- of prosperity (credit cards, debt, cooked books), beauty (face lifts, boob jobs, botox), and performance (drugs that do everything from grow muscle to re-sod a pate to letting you take Uncle Johnson to Boomtown for four hours). Scratch the surface of things and, well, it's best to just admire an athlete for his talent and take the rest under advisement.
Like Clemens' son Koby recently said to the New York Post, "I just want people to look themselves in the mirror before they judge. People make mistakes. I'm not perfect. I'm sure you're not perfect. Nobody's perfect."
Amen. The sooner and more easily we and our titans can acknowledge that, the better.
Baseball's All-Time Scandal Team
1B: Mark McGwire