Today Ken Griffey, Jr. passed Frank Robinson on the all-time home run list. Sixth place after Sammy Sosa. Griffey, Jr. has always been one of my favorite ballplayers. Loves the game, plays with a smile, always gives 110%, and seems to be a nice guy. I'm from Chicago and a Cubs fan, but I never liked Sosa. He always seemed insincere to me, especially during that "magical" home run race with McGwire. Whenever he would say, "You da man, Mark!", I would cringe. Please, Sammy, stop it. We all know you wanted to be 'da man'. Actually, McGwire and Sosa both make me cringe.
When I look at Griffey, Jr.'s back-to-back 50 home run seasons and his run during those years, I am far more impressed than "Shady" Sosa's back-to-back 60 home run seasons. It's the same for much of America. When Sosa past Frank Robinson's mark last year, sports writers yawned. Why did they yawn? Most of them didn't see it as legitimate. It's a tainted record.
For Barry Bonds, it's a slightly different story. Many baseball fans don't like his arrogant and surly personality while people might have been deceived by Sosa's effervescent personality. So outside of the Bay Area, not many are cheering him on as he approaches Hank Aaron's home run record while during Sosa's glory year they were. What's also different is that people had no clue or little reason to doubt that Sosa wasn't juiced back then. It was our first experience with home run numbers off the charts while now we know that drug use is widespread.
Barry just as much admitted to using performance-cheating drugs on a grand jury, but stated that it was ignorance. Whatever. The lack of support and cheers for Bonds is not an issue of race as some corners of America want or believe it to be. It's an issue of fairness and character. The gut reaction in most of us when a cheater gets away with something. Sometimes this feeling fades away with time, but it's still there hoping for the right thing to happen. For justice to prevail.
What I find stupider than people arguing that it is racism as to why the public is against Bonds breaking Aaron's record, is questioning whether steroids and hormones help baseball players. The typical argument is that they still have to hit the ball, which is "the hardest thing to do in sports." Hello? Excuse. These are already professional baseball players. And have you ever watched a game? How balls are caught 10-20 feet away from the fence? Imagine how ball routine ground ball outs with a bit of juice become blistering singles or doubles? Then what about those routine fly balls now? Now imagine how a .233 and 15 home run hitter becomes a .261 and 33 home run hitter or a .308 and 66 home run hitter after a steady diet of hormones and corked bats? These are Sosa's actual stats from his first full season and his juiced up years.
I really hope someone develops an accurate test to detect human growth hormone (hGH) and other performance-cheating drugs. Major League baseball should fund it since they created this mess in our nation's beloved sport.
Moving beyond baseball, one question that always bothered me is "what about Lance Armstrong?" Talk to people in cycling and you'll learn about the wide use of performance-cheating drugs in that sport. Did you ever watch that special report on Lance Armstrong by ESPN's Jeremy Schaap last year? Probably not since it was on-air for a shorten period of time. I assume Lance's attorneys threatened ESPN, so they pulled the plug on an excellent piece. Schapp's report convinced me that Armstrong is a cheater too.
Schapp interviews Greg LeMond stating how he told Armstrong to stop using and not to taint the sport. Next communication LeMond hears is from Armstrong attorney and a threat that he will shutdown LeMond's business. Another interview by a former employee of Armstrong's cycling team seals the deal for me. The year I saw this great piece of journalism was the year that Armstrong was the host of ESPN's ESPY Awards. Probably another reason the piece was short-lived.
Cold and ruthless. For being beloved by much of America, Armstrong gives me vibes worse than Barry Bonds.
Greg LeMond was recently called by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to testify on the Floyd Landis' case. Landis was the 2006 winner of the Tour de France who was stripped of his title after he tested positive for a banned substance. Amazing twist in this story was that Landis' business manager threatened LeMond and tried to blackmail him so that he wouldn't testify. I assume Landis will deny knowing about this too.
Landis, Armstrong, Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Grimsley, and others who use performance-cheating drugs are not athletes to be idolized or followed. They will serve as examples to my children of how not the play sports and compete. It will help me explain how ego or money shouldn't drive their desires of success in business, politics, or whatever they want do it in life. I will tell them to do it because they love it and to do it with fairness, honor and dignity.
For me, people such as Ken Griffey, Jr. and Greg Lemond are refreshing lights in the recent shadow of sports. Where have you gone Don Mattingly? Muhammad Ali? Joe DiMaggio?
"The Dignified Slugger From Mobile" by George Will
"Baseball's biggest bully is Bonds" by Skip Bayless
"For Bonds, great wasn't good enough" by Jeff Pearlman