ANDY BOROWITZ has a funny piece today under the headline, "Angry Cleveland Indians Fans Demand Team Take Steroids."
"The national pastime suffered another black eye last night," Borowitz 'reports' in a spoof article, "when a mob of irate Cleveland Indians fans poured onto the diamond at Progressive Field to demand that their team take steroids.
"Displeasure with the championship-starved squad reached a boiling point with the news that slugger Manny Ramirez took performance-enhancing drugs -- but only after leaving the Indians."
Of course, Borowitz is playing off of the news that Ramirez, the L.A. Dodgers star outfielder, got hit with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for steroids. It's pretty big news given that Manny (or should I say Mr. Ramirez?) is a force on the field and, to put it euphemistically, an "iconoclast" off the field (go to this interesting profile of him in the New Yorker from a couple of years ago to see what I mean). But I don't feel the sort of breathless, end-of-the-world commentary about this scandal that I think characterized much of the public chatter when some other top baseball stars have been nailed with juicing themselves over the past few years.
Maybe there's a bit of steroid fatigue. Maybe we've just come to expect that everyone's doing it now and that, as the Borowitz spoof suggests, you'd be a chump not to.
Oh sure, there will still be those who will wax on about "the integrity of the game," the desecration of our one true civil religion, the psychological well-being of our children, and all that. I agree, and I, too, am disappointed. But some give our "national pastime" (well, some people's national pastime) a bit too much credit for saving and sustaining the soul of the American people.
It is just a game, after all, not an existential experience. (I pay $200 a seat plus another $500 for food and beer therefore I am.) Indeed, much as we will all hate having to wonder now whether the towering home run over the centerfield seats was real or "assisted," most of us still love the sight of it, don't we? Just as we love the acrobatic drive to the basket followed by the rim-rattling dunk; the violent, cruise-missile-like hit on the receiver down the middle of the field; and the bulging sprinter who shoots past the field toward the tape. We love being stunned by these feats even as we hate the bums for desecrating the sport.
Some of us love the punishing power and antics of professional "wrestling," even as we know it's all fake. Baseball and the other sports have not even approached the contrivance of the "smackdown" yet, and I still think most want to see a battle of the humanly possible.
But I have to believe that many of these naturally great athletes take then unnatural step of juicing their bodies not only because it gives them an edge (and shame on pro sports for not clamping down on this sooner, before it turned into an arms race, something that players felt they had to do to survive.) They do it, also, because they know it will please the crowd, which in turn will please the sponsors, which in turn will please the team ownership, which in turn will please the athlete and his agent at contract time.
I'm not saying that the guys who take the drugs and cork the bats are not responsible. They are. And, yes, there are plenty of majestic and exciting athletes who are clean (I think). But don't we secretly like what we see from the cheaters? Do we really care that they cheat?