Wednesday, March 23, 2005

St. Patrick's Day Massacre

This blogger is still reeling from St. Patrick’s Day and it has nothing to do with celebrating the death of the Welsh criminal who drove the snakes from Ireland.

I’m hung over from the blarney issued by the greatest single-season home run slugger of all time at the Congressional steroid hearings on March 17th.

Like St. Patrick, Mark McGwire has a smooth tongue and a large fan base, but he choked under sworn testimony when he refused to deny using steroids to become one of the best batters in the history of the national pastime.

In Jose Canseco’s dreadful book that first alleged widespread use of steroids in baseball, Canseco says he personally injected McGwire with steroids when they were playing together for the Oakland Athletics. Big Mac subsequently issued a written statement that said: “Once and for all, I did not use steroids nor any other illegal substance.” His grammar not mine.

Under oath before Congress on St Patrick’s Day, McGwire was unable to make the same claim. And when asked by Rep. Elijah Cummings whether he was asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, McGwire said: "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject." Which sounds like Sammy Sosa saying he only used his hollowed bats in batting practice to impress his fans.

“There’s a cloud over the game that I love,” said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, chairman of the steroid hearings after listening to McGwire’s double talk. But no one else appeared particularly agitated by the scandal. It was all business as usual.

When we are swimming in an ocean of disgraced heroes what’s one more disappointment? It’s like the entire American population has become simply numb to corruption. Bill Bennett calls it the death of outrage.

No one is the least shocked that our captains of industry – from Martha Stuart to Bernie Ebbers – are convicted felons. No one in their right mind believes anything that passes from the lips of our elected officials. God knows our priests can’t be trusted with our children. We live in a society without a moral compass and no one gives a hoot.

And now baseball, the most magic of all sports, has been poisoned by a new generation of liars and cheats.

For sure there has been a history of mischief in baseball. This is not the first incident. One interesting scam happened in July 1965 when the Detroit Tigers were accused of storing the game’s baseballs in an ice box. The Tigers were in a bitterly contested five-game pennant series against the Chicago White Sox. The balls in the game were observed to be “ice cold” on that hot July afternoon. The colder the ball, the lower its elasticity, the slower it flies off the bat.

Neat trick. So simple and ingenuous that it makes us smile. It’s got to the point that we compliment such chicanery. If cheating is cute or clever, then we’ll give it a pass. So is it any wonder that Big Mac fans don’t know what to think.

In 1998, after witnessing Mark McGwire hit five homers in three games to finish the season with a record-breaking 70 home runs, Dan Shaughnessy bought his young son a $125 McGwire replica jersey. The veteran sports writer then penned a story about the incredible new American hero that was printed on Page One of the Boston Globe.

Last week, following the St. Patrick’s Day testimony, Shaughnessy ran another story in the Globe, a retraction of sorts, that concluded with the observation that his now 17-year-old son doesn’t quite know what to do with that 1998 Cardinal jersey that still hangs in his closet.

Tell him to burn the jersey, Dan. Better yet, tell him to take a hot steaming dump in the jersey, wrap it up, and send it postage due to McGwire’s home address.

Yeah, it’s okay to get angry. And if enough people don’t get angry then McGwire will become another St. Patrick. Which is to say a fraud who became a saint.

St. Patrick’s real name was Maewyn Succat. He was not born Irish or Christian. When he was a boy he was kidnapped in Wales and sold into slavery around 400 A.D. He worked as a slave for at least six years in Ireland, when he was fortunate enough to escape. He fled to England, then France, where he was taken in by the church. There the young pagan con artist changed his name to Patrick, took up the cross, and with the blessings of the Pope eventually returned to Ireland to drive out the snakes.

The snakes being the Celtic Druids he blamed for his years of servitude. Patrick’s revenge was to convert all of Ireland to Christianity. He was arrested and imprisoned several times for his efforts, but he always managed to escape or smooth talk his way out of prison.

March 17 marks the day Patrick died in 461. Celts are not celebrating Maewyn’s birthday; they are celebrating his death. And for a reason. He is an anathema to all true Celts, but to this day, despite the historic revelations, the dead con artist remains the patron saint of Ireland. And much beloved by millions.

Time will pass, wounds will heal, Mark McGwire will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and once again we will have a home grown champion for kids to worship. We all need heroes.

Years from now the steroid thing will probably be viewed as a pack of lies stirred up by a bunch of no name Congressmen. A meaningless asterisk in history.

Yet justice will still be served. It will be served tonight by every dark memory that haunts anyone who cheats in baseball. And tomorrow night. And the night after that. No matter how deep the denial, no matter what the excuses, dishonest players will forver toss and turn in the eternal lonely moments, knowing what they have done.

Mark McGwire should pray there is no hell because this blogger does not believe there can be forgiveness for those who cheat in baseball.