Spring cleaning

Spring, wonderful spring. Baseball is back in all its glory, along with some shame.

The World Baseball Classic appeared ready to join the latter category, but now that it's underway, it is shaping up to to perhaps live up to its name. Most prognosticators predicted it would be a flop, or worse, a disaster. No one seemed to agree when exactly it should take place. No one liked the pitch limits or the mercy rule. No one wanted to see their best players get hurt for a game that just didn't seem to matter -- that is, for a game that wasn't played for their own favorite team.

But baseball, it can be argued, is hardly America's pastime any longer. And frankly, I would argue that the best thing that could happen for the sake of the World Baseball Classic would be for team USA to get eliminated in the first round. Imagine the uproar! The disgrace! America beaten at its own game! Surely it wouldn't happen, not with the light schedule the US had to face in round one.

Game one went according as planned, but barely. The US beat Mexico 2-0, both runs coming by way of solo home runs, the first by everyone's favorite first baseman, the above pictured Mr. Derrek Lee, the second by Atlanta's Chipper Jones, who I personally can't stand. Next up were the Canadians, whose team consisted of the Pirates' Jason Bay, and...well, some other guys, Canadians for the most part. No problem.

Well, until the US actually played the Canadians. Starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis, he with the funny wind-up and the 2003 World Series ring and Rookie-of-the-Year trophy, got positively shelled. The scoring got started thanks to a triple by Canada's second baseman, Stubby Clapp. Yes, there is a baseball player whose name is Stubby Clapp. You've never heard of Stubby Clapp? He exists, you can look him up. He's the quintessential cup-of-coffee minor league also-ran; played 23 games for the Cardinals in 2001 and racked up an awful .200 batting average, knocked around the minors until '04, and thus would have logically ended the sorry story of Stubby Clapp. Much as at seems the fates should smile on the baseball career of a player with a name as old-school perfect as Stubby Clapp, baseball success for Stubby was just not to be.

Until the maligned, misnomered World Baseball Classic came along, and Mr. Stubby Clapp re-wrote the script baseball karma had handed him and made himself a surefire hero in the hockey-obsessed nation of Canada. These allegedly unintimidating Canucks beat the snot out of Dontrelle Willis and stormed to a 8-0 lead behind the aforementioned Stubby Clapp, an inside-the-park home run by Adam Stern, who did little to distinguish himself for the Red Sox last year, and a gutsy start from pitcher Adam Loewen, who spent all of last year playing for Baltimore's Class A minor league team, who if you were wondering play in Frederick, MD. This against a team boasting a generous helping of future first-ballot Hall-of-Famers and the World's Premier First Baseman, Derrek Lee, star of Chicago's Favorite Baseball Team. And they resisted a 6-run surge by the Americans and held down a save behind, you guessed it, a not-ready-for-primetime minor league pitcher.

Much as America would like to see its chosen heroes reassert its dominance in the sport it invented, the sad truth is that the rest of the world has way more passion invested in America's former pastime. A Cinderella story like Canada beating the world's finest with such endearing baseball never-weres such as Stubby Clapp would just the kind of improbable outcome that just may make the World Baseball Classic truly classic.


Unfortunately, the other notable baseball story of the week adds another page to the growing story of shame that is the sport's stubborn resistance, up until last year, to sever the sport's sick fascination with the deathly cult of performance enhancing drugs. Steroids have cast a sorry pall over the greying glory of American baseball, seeding doubt among those who want so badly to believe in the sport's glory, and calling into question so many milestones in its recent past. Forget the dishonor in danger of being served to to Willie Mays and Babe Ruth, someone needs dig up the bones of Roger Maris, cast them in bronze, and encase them in plexiglass for permanent enshrinment within the hallowed hall of Cooperstown.

Yes, Barry Bonds is back on the front pages, and no, no one's surprised with the central allegations of the upcoming tell-all book Game of Shadows.

Much as so many who love baseball would just wish Barry and his grotesque ilk would shrivel up and go, the shame of cheating with drugs can only be eliminated by getting tough and turning a back on those who put themselves above the game. Baseball doesn't need Barry. It's got Derrek Lee, Chipper Jones, Dontrelle Willis, and Stubby Clapp. Guys like them play for the glory of the game and the glory of the team. Barry only plays for Barry, and everyone loses.


No more on this. Let the following article by ESPN's Buster Olney stand as the last word on Barry, on all that Barry's ruined, and on all that Barry's lost.

Welcome to the Hall ... of Shame

July 25, 2010. Barry Bonds sits near a podium in Cooperstown, N.Y. Willie Mays walks slowly to a podium, and the applause is loud, fading slowly, as the crowd waits to hear his words.

"I'm here to talk about the past," Mays says, "and to introduce this young man sitting over here to my right."

The fans roar. Bonds smiles, looking up.

"This is what you all know about Barry Bonds. Winner of three Most Valuable Player Awards. Eight-time Gold Glove Award winner. Led the National League in RBI once, in 1993. Led the National League in home runs once, in 1993.

"But let me tell you something you may not know about Barry Bonds. He made choices. The right choices. And that's part of the reason why I can say to you, without qualification or reservation, that this young man is one of the greatest players of all time."

More cheers. Loud. And then Mays continues.

"Everybody who spent time around the game knew by the early '90s that the players were changing, and what they were putting in their bodies was changing. Something more than Wheaties, although none of us knows exactly what.

"Maybe it was those strange words. Winstrol. Stanozol. Deka. Andro. By the summer of 1998, the bodies were huge. Looked like offensive linemen, and everybody in the game knew why. We didn't know for sure, but we suspected. These guys were changing the game, the way the game was played, the numbers.

"And it was that summer that Barry had to make the same choice that all the players in baseball faced. He could change what he was putting in his body, and get bigger and stronger -- freakishly bigger and stronger -- and you know what? There was a chance nobody would find out, or even care. Baseball didn't test for steroids then, and there weren't any penalties. Seemed like the whole industry looked the other way.

"But you know what? This young man sitting to my right felt good about what he had accomplished, in the first 13 years of his career. Four hundred and eleven homers. Over 1,200 RBI. Hell, we already knew he'd make it here one day. He was a great player and we all knew it. And Barry Bonds kept eating Wheaties instead of that other stuff.

"See, my Godson was smart. Remember how he said all along that he didn't care what other people thought about him, and the writers got on him for that? Well, that's how he lived out his career, wasn't it? He didn't let the expectations of others drive him into doing something unnatural, did he? He didn't worry about the numbers that those other big guys were putting up, did he? He was smart enough to realize he didn't need artificially-enhanced greatness. Barry Bonds already had greatness.

"And look at him. Same smiling mug. Same skinny-framed guy he was when he started in 1986, except for that little tire that's growing around his gut, now that he's 46. All natural.

"Sure, the end of his career got a little ugly, as it did for the rest of us. Barry's knees were killing him, but he played through it, for the last five years of his career. He wasn't hitting 70 homers, like some of his peers, but he played the game with the highest possible integrity. Those 25 homers he hit in his last year, in 2004, we can take those to the bank. We can take everything he accomplished at face value.

"He didn't finish his career with as many homers as Henry Aaron, or Babe Ruth, or myself, or Frank Robinson. But Barry was the best player of his generation -- one of the greatest of all time."

The crowd cheers loudly.

"In recent years, you have seen a lot of the stage behind me empty, and you know why. A lot of the Hall of Famers won't come when they presume that the inductees put something in their bodies that wasn't supposed to be there.

"But now look behind us. The stage is packed. Look, we all know Barry has been a bit prickly from time to time. But we all know the choices Barry faced, and the choices Barry made, and because of that, there is no player from his era more respected.

"With that, I want to introduce to you my godson, Barry Bonds."

There are cheers, and as Bonds rises from his chair, the Hall of Famers behind Bonds rise, as well, and clap.



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