Years back I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article dedicated to the breakout success of then Seattle Mariners second basemen Brett Boone. It was the summer of 2001 and SI was backing up claims by Boone that his surging power numbers were due to his off-season workout regimen in which he had packed on 20 pounds of muscle.
During this same time I myself was involved with a serious weight-training program in order to strengthen my body for the upcoming Track & Field season. Doing my best during a long hot summer in the valley of Northern California to 'stay in shape to get into shape,' as we liked to say. Because although the track season didn't officially begin again until February of the following year, even at the Division II level it was basically a year around sport.
Although I did take some time out for the occasional beer or two, at this point in my collegiate career I was extremely dedicated to my fitness. Because let's be honest; as a skinny white guy running the 400m dash, with slightly above average talent I had to work for every tenth of a second. And unlike many elite athletes in my sport, I prided myself on the fact that everything I accomplished I did so on my own merit. I'm not sure why I felt this way at the time except that anything less felt phony.
In light of my hard work in the weight room and on the track, I guess reading this article about Boone, just made me mad. I was upset because it was obvious to me that no human being could gain 20 pounds of muscle in 2-3 months of training. In fact, studies have shown that over an 8 month weight training program focused on building strength and muscle, the human body on average can only add on roughly 8 pounds of lean muscle mass. Of course, there are things like water weight and fat that can jump up your number on the scale but athletes like Boone were lean and mean and reaping the benefits.
Although, Boone's quite visible explosion positioned him at the top the American league in RBI's and on the front page of SI, this wasn't the first time I suspected America's pastime of something other than pure. Simply put, it just further solidified my suspicions.
In 1998, with the strike only 4 years behind us, baseball fans watched Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa embark on what seemed to be a beautiful journey in time. With a jaw-dropping 70 and 66 homeruns respectively, these two larger than life men, brought together people of all shapes, sizes and colors.
It was great to see as Major League Baseball, like America, has long been clouded by the ugliness of racism since the days of the Negro Leagues and Jim Crow. Indeed Jackie Robinson and the proceeding Civil Rights movement did much to enlighten the country as a whole but, after years of tumultuous social instability, from the Vietnam war up thru the treacherous Reagan era, and of course the latest baseball strike of 1994, seeing the exuberant brown-skinned Sosa and humble pale-skinned McGwire, playfully spar back n forth, pushing each other to record heights, was truly powerful.
But then I looked at my baseball card collection.
Right there, smack dab on their rookie card, these guys weighed in as to what had really been going on. Sosa, had ballooned from 165 pounds to well over 200 pounds and appeared chiseled, faster and stronger with an insane increase in power numbers.
(In 2001, after reading the Boone article and thinking back to 1998, I taped Sosa's rookie card to the wall in my room, exposing the back of the card which boasted his weight. It was a conversation piece and a reminder that my hard work was something to be proud of.)
McGwire whom was already a big guy in 1987, as a 6-5 rookie when he hit 49 home runs, his size continued to spike, a bit curiously I might add, after teaming up with now self-glorified steroid user Jose Canseco. And at one point late in his career when his power was at its most god-like, McGwire's weight was somewhere in the ballpark of 250 pounds.
(I remember going to Oakland A's games in the early 90's with my best friend Jack Leonard who's dad had season tickets and thinking that McGwire & Canseco appeared super-human as their arms and legs looked like they were about to burst from their uniform).
Of course, McGwire would eventually admit to using the then legal Androsteindion supplement, which is a 'pre-cursor' to testosterone (Basically, it's a milder performance enhancing substance, not to be confused with legitimate supplements like whey protein or even creatine). This early acknowledgement by McGwire was at first read as a legitimate display of honesty and many in the media and around the water cooler dismissed this as something less than cheating. That was however before his former "bash-brother," Jose Canseco decided to go public.
So, perhaps McGwire would have gotten off the hook if Canseco had not told of the stories in the A's locker room in which the two would stick each other in the butt with syringes loaded with Human Growth Hormones? Perhaps, Barry Bonds wouldn't be the escape goat for MLB and the Players Association who has long claimed that steroid users are a minority? Perhaps, the major crack down on steroids would continue to only exist in Track & Field, the sport long spotlighted as the most tainted, since the days of the Iron curtain? But then again, perhaps it was only a matter of time?
That's how lies work ya' know. The more lies you tell, the greater the web begins to tangle until eventually the whole thing comes crashing down. And right now, the mainstream sports media is scrambling to pick up the pieces and save-face and its investment as they, like MLB and its "clueless" commissioner, have for years assisted and enabled these players to "juice" the record books.
Many sports broadcasters, like ESPN's Karl Ravich, will claim that they were ignorant to the subject during the late 90's when numbers began to balloon and never once thought to think about steroids. They will continue to stress that baseball is a great game and still America's past time. That the Mitchell report only targets certain players and that it is unfair as others get away "scot-free." Simultaneously, these same talking-heads will claim as fact an unkown percentage to be clean. And my favorite line which has been used over and over again to spin the truth, "even if these athletes did use steroids, steroids won't help you hit a 90 mph fastball."
But, of course, the answer is, yes. Yes, it does help and yes it is illegal. And more importantly yes, it is cheating and yes YOU are a cheat and a liar if YOU have taken it or helped cover it up.
For years, like politicians who swear to uphold campaign promises only to forget who put them in office once they take the oath, YOU the player, have lied to prosper. YOU have spit in the face of your family, your friends and the fans that support your outrageous salaries. That is what makes people the most upset I think.
As a kid I idolized these great men who could hit, run and throw a ball like super heroes in the movies. I spent hundreds, probably thousands of dollars collecting their cards and trading them with my brother and friends. I followed their careers and memorized all of their stats. I cheered for their games and felt terrible when my team or favorite player fell short. I argued and debated over these men and the game they play with close friends to the point that things sometimes became so heated we had to be separated. I did all of this with an infatuation that was built around a faÃƒÂ§ade. That's the way the game was sold to me.
With the release of the Mitchell report this week, I must admit that I feel a little bit better about myself, baseball, and perhaps even my country? While many fans may now feel anger toward these tainted players for letting them down, I believe that there are also many more of us who have long known these sad facts to be true. It is with this feeling of validation that I will go about the rest of my week with a smile because although I still live in a nation that is waging a disastrous war in my name, and that continues to ignore the poor in favor of wealthy corporations and capitalism, I believe ultimately the truth shall set us free.
That is, if baseball can be broken down and exposed for what it has been over the past 20 years or more (a lie), then so can America. From the bullshit that was sold to the African-American community that Bill Clinton was their first president, to the lies told to all of us after September 11th, we must embrace the truth -that America's past time is based upon lies, just as its foreign and domestic wars on terror and drugs- and swear to never fall for these same tricks again.
The Bush Administration needs a Mitchell report.
Nate Mezmer is a rapper, writer, entertainer and citizen of the United States of America. He lives in San Francisco, CA