Let me show you what is probably the only defining baseball moment for Detroiters—surely my generation of Detroiters—to come out of the mid to late 90’s:
If you can look past the fact that Frank Beckmann was a part of this, it’s a pretty incredible moment. The scene is the last game ever to be played at historically legendary Tiger Stadium. One of the only bright spots in a dismal baseball future, Robert Fick, steps up to the plate with the bases loaded. With one swing of the bat, Fick immortalizes himself in baseball history, hitting a grand slam off of the roof—the ultimate send off to every Michigander’s favorite sports venue. He’s wearing Norm Cash’s number, and Frank reminds us that Al Kaline said before the game that he’d hit a homerun that day. And he did.
This is the kinda crap that provokes lines from screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin to question our sometimes scientific outlook on our favorite sport: “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”
And then, years later…
All of the sudden it all seems so fake, so manufactured, so bastardized and void of human ability. Ugh—where’s the romance in that?
But Robert Fick is a product of his time, I guess. He sounds like the immature high school student who gets caught smoking or drinking in this article when he tells the press that, “everyone was doing it!” Though, to me, that’s the worst part about this whole thing. The finger pointing. Whenever any MLB player is accused of or guilty of using steroids, his first move is to never simply take responsibility for his actions, but throw out a laundry list of other players that should be brought down with him. By the end of the “steroid era”, it became a witch hunt. A witch hunt of Crucible and McCarthy-like hysteria to the point of; if anyone was on some kinda tear, ever, there were immediately whispers of their supplemental diet. Even though it always ended up being guys like Alex Sanchez—who only hit one or two balls to the warning track in his entire career—got busted for steroids instead guys like Chris Shelton—the only substance he ended up abusing were Whoppers (just kidding, we love you, Chris. That one week you hit nine homeruns was one of the most incredible baseball weeks of my young life!).
Now here’s another grand slam for ya:
This happened last Sunday. The scene isn’t like Robert Fick’s. No, that grand salami will slowly fade away from baseball memories as just one of those regular Sundays in July where some shortstop ran into one. Because watching that homerun live on Sunday was just weird. It felt wrong. Because of who hit it. Because of what was going to happen to him. Because of today. Today, a hero fell. Today, with the acceptance of his appointed suspension for steroids, is his admission.
Somewhere, there’s a kid out there, and his Tiger is Jhonny Peralta. Today, that kid has to find some way to justify his fandom, as others will tell him that Peralta is nothing but a juiced up steroid junky, a loser from another era. That era, that time; it’s seen now by fans AND players as a nasty blemish on the game’s history and integrity. Sure, the ‘roid era helped boost baseball back to the center stage with homerun boppers like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, but times have changed, damn it. People want real, people want legitimacy. And it’s so damn sacred in baseball, because baseball fans love our stats. The game has changed, but we want to act like Miguel Cabrera has it the same as Hank Greenberg; even though it’s almost a completely different game. I mean no one wants to throw up an asterisk on Miggy’s triple crown because he has the benefit of video-scouting that Carl Yastrzemski didn’t have. So, if it’s not really about stats, why does it devastate fans and players like it does to hear that their favorite ballplayer is using performance enhancing drugs. I mean, I’ll say it! As a Jewish American, Ryan Braun was a special hero for me. The kinda guy who defeats the stereotypes hilariously illustrated in movies like “Airplane!” that offers us some light reading: famous Jewish sports legends. Ryan Braun has had an incredible career, but now it’s tainted by a cloud of consistent drug test failures and accusations that it’s getting incredibly hard to be a fan of his. In fact, for many of us, that time has come and gone.
We’ve heard it before, if you’re not cheating you’re not trying. This is a scene from “Space Jam”. I was watching it a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but think about how weird this scene is, especially to aim towards kids in the mid-90’s. Maybe it is an example of how times have changed. It’s not that the Toon Squad is cheating here. They’re not, because they are just drinking water. What’s weird about this scene, though, is that no one, even Michael Jordan, questions the morality of taking a performance enhancing drink. Except Daffy, who is quickly convinced by Michael with: “do you want to win or not!?”
So how can we fault Braun and Peralta, Cruz and A-Rod? They’re just trying to win, right? Yeah, sure, but you know what the most annoying part about it is? They know it’s wrong. And we know they know it’s wrong. So what the hell is going through these players’ minds when they’re about to put something in their body that they know is going to get them in trouble!? That’s the most frustrating part about it. Something makes me believe that PEDs aren’t just slipping into Jhonny’s oatmeal in the off season.
It’s like the college athlete who breaks NCAA rules: you’ll have the rest of your life and many other arenas to BS people, why choose the here and now when you have it good? We watch sports to get away, and we watch sports to find that romance that Aaron Sorkin so talks about. So when our favorite players like Jhonny and Ryan use steroids, it is the ultimate blunder to our sometimes misguided, irrational baseball love. We must move on, though. In Detroit, we are lucky enough to have some very talented people righting the ship. Dave Dombrowski has filled the void of Jhonny Peralta with an extremely talented shorstop in Jose Iglesias. It gives us a guy with defense, speed and, maybe most importantly, a clear record. We have given up a talented outfielder in exchange for Iggy, and I can’t forgive Jhonny for that. It stinks, it really does, but I hope that sooner or later, Avisail Garcia gets traded away from the White Sox and has a very lengthy and successful career on like the Padres or something. Yeah, I could root for the Padres one day, sure.
Jhonny will be available to come back to the team with a week left in the season. I hope they don’t take him back. Not just because I don’t think we’ll need him. Not because I am frustrated with him. But because it’s not the right thing to do. I know Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland aren’t reading this right now, but, damn it, it just wouldn’t be right to bring Jhonny back. You don’t reward that sort of thing. It’s time to rid baseball of this.
Today, the Tigers lost one of their best hitters. But it’s not the batting average we’re losing that I am upset about. I’m upset because I can’t believe it’s August of 2013 and we’re still being distracted by steroids. I am sure Jhonny is a nice guy, and I am sure he is sorry for what he did. I wish the best for him, I really do. But he didn’t do all he could do to help this team bring home a championship, and he has lost his right to that opportunity in 2013. We don’t need him, though. With this starting pitching, some of the hitters on this team and the bullpen finally figuring itself out, all of the pieces are coming together and I can’t believe it, but this might be one of the most exciting times in Detroit baseball history. You might as well call us McFadden and Whitehead…
And I’m just kidding about Frank Beckmann. “I MADE A JOKE, JIM! I MADE A JOKE WHEN I SHOULDN’T HAVE!”