Sunday, May 11, 2008

Influence and Imitation

"The idea that a guy can blatantly cheat and be allowed to get away with it because of who he is disgusts me. What are we teaching the kids about sportsmanship?"

The above quote is from former New York Met Rusty Staub, talking about former Houston Astro pitcher Mike Scott. I ran across it while reading a book about the notorious 1986 New York Mets. But while that Mets team was referred to by one of their own as a "vile" group of individuals, there was nobody on that team who could cheat the way that Mike Scott could cheat. And he got away with it. Even after the Mets collected dozens of baseballs with scuff marks all in the same location, he continued to scuff away with impunity.

But did Staub really need to bring "the kids" into the discussion? Isn't that a cheap emotional ploy? I thought so when I first ran across the quotation, and I kept reading without giving it much thought. But after reading a few more pages about Scott's duplicitous dealings, I suddenly stopped and thought about Staub's words again. I had a flashback to playing kickball in third grade, and rubbing the ball into the ground when I thought no one was looking. Now, never mind that scuffing a rubber kickball is likely an impossible task. The fact of the matter is that as an "innocent" nine-year-old, I had a mini-obsession with scuffing balls. I watched and listened to baseball whenever I could, and I heard announcers talking about the likes of Scott, Joe Niekro (busted with an Emory board in a hilarious moment in '87), Don Sutton, and Gaylord Perry--all guys infamous for their ability to get away with doctoring baseballs. Even though I never played organized baseball, I would rub dirt and grass on tennis balls when I played with friends in the back yard (despite the fact that I would have to hit the same balls).

I then thought about 1994. Albert Belle was busted for using a corked bat. Bob Uecker described on a broadcast the theory behind a corked bat, noting that the cork was simply used to cover up a drilled hole, which was supplied the actual advantage. Days later, my middle school aged brother had successfully drilled a hole into an old wooden bat. I then thought about 2003, when Sammy Sosa was busted for using a corked bat. A few weeks later the amateur league Madison Mallards had a promotion where kids could learn how to cork a bat.

Scuffed balls and corked bats are one thing, but the use of performance enhancing drugs is quite another. One of the justifications that Congress used for investigating Major League Baseball's drug policy was that impressionable young people might be more at risk for using steroids because professional baseball players do it. Remembering my own kickball misdeeds, I am less apt to dismiss this argument.

On the other hand, I think about May 11, 2008. Ryan Braun, using a pink bat to raise awareness for breast cancer research, hits two home runs. I wonder if any kids in Wisconsin plan to paint one of their bats pink.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Huxford said...

Yeah...people do play up the kids angle a little too much.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Tee said...

Wow, now that is one your best, Azor. That one needs to be published in a magazine...seriously. Children are very impressionable. The world seems to have closed their eyes and shunned away from that reality. We can only shelter our children from so much, the rest is up to the rest of the world to BEHAVE.
Tee

11:04 PM  

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