I grew up in Brooklyn and like everyone else I knew, I was a staunch Dodger fan. My grandfather used to purchase two season tickets every year and while he didn't bring me along every single week, I went often enough so that my recollection of those days at Ebbets Field is strong and very memorable.
The tickets Grandpa purchased were in the bleachers, far away from the players on the field. However, we were often able to move to better seats once the game began. I remember the players stepping out and waving to the crowd at intermissions. Sometimes, at the beginning of the 7th inning stretch, they would shout out a few words to the fans and we would scream and jump for joy. Since the price of the ticket didn't include a kosher frankfurter, my mother always packed a picnic lunch for us to enjoy and I remember once telling my mother that I didn't understand why the food tasted so much better at Ebbets Field than it did at home.
Trading baseball cards was a favorite pastime of most of my friends, and contrary to folklore, we girls were active participants along with our male classmates. We idolized people like Sandy Koufax, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and I could go on and on. It would not have taken much to convince us that they could walk on water and our parents were only too delighted to have us revere our sports heroes and try to emulate them whenever possible. So when and how and why did things change?
We all know that athletes face incredible pressure to "win." They also know that along with winning comes money, fame, and adulation and apparently they learn rather quickly that there are drugs that can give them faster and better results than simply spending their time training; consequently, many of them have decided that the reward is worth the risk they take, and that includes health risks as well as getting caught and penalized; knowing that steroids or drugs, whatever it is that they are taking, can bring them more than a gold medal, and understanding the enormous sums of money and fame that can come their way, they are willing to take whatever risks are involved. Athletes also keep in mind that they only have a short time to do their best work. They know and fully understand that training is the best path to victory, but obviously, for some, the probability of health issues in the future is less important than the accolades and wealth they are accumulating in the present. Of course, there are also those athletes who may misuse drugs to help them cope with the stress of the competition, and to boost their self-esteem.
So, how did we get to this place and what can be done about it? To some extent, it's entirely possible that the enormous publicity that the current scandal has engendered may bring an end to the abuse for most athletes and, therefore, it may be taking care of itself. I guess that's the optimistic point of view. But how do we explain these flawed heroes to our children and grandchildren? I'm not sure. I’m certainly glad to see that at long last some real punishment is being handed out, because that does allow us to point out the obvious lessons: Once you are caught, you not only lose everything, you also suffer the embarrassment of having everyone know that you are not a hero – you are a cheat. However, the lesson of doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is a harder lesson to teach – especially to the current young generation of children.
I try never to lose track of the fact that my own parents were always extraordinarily concerned about the protests I participated in as a college student. Although they had taught me to stand up for what I believed in, they didn’t necessarily expect that I would be carrying anti-government signs and marching alongside of people who seemed dangerous to them. Every generation has its own issues. Nevertheless, having said that, I think that the world we live in has spawned a lot of the behavior that we find so shocking. With the advent of the computer into our daily lives, it was no longer necessary to spend time waiting for things to happen – we could see to it that papers got signed, images got sent, information could be found almost immediately. In fact, immediate reward has become a way of life for most of us, and yet, not unlike my parents, I find myself surprised and rather upset by the fact that our athletes are also looking for an immediate reward.
Life is changing very quickly in our current environment and somehow we have to sort out what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. I think we do that by example. Our children learn from watching us. Consequently, if we wouldn’t like to see them exhibiting certain behaviors, it’s up to us to avoid those behaviors ourselves. Learning to relax and have patience and not to necessarily be looking for the shortest and fastest way to remuneration, and respecting ourselves and those around us starts with the example we set. So perhaps it’s time to turn off the cell phone while we’re at the dinner table and to spend time talking about values and expectations – and most important, I think, is to see to it that there are consequences for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior in our own homes. Like everything else, this is easier said than done, but unless we try, I shudder to think of what kind of world it is that my grandchildren will be living in.
The following is an article from the New York Times:
How A-Rod Doesn’t Add Up
By Doug Glanville
Strangely enough, I don’t remember the numbers that accompanied those moments that helped turn baseball into a lifetime passion.
The Phillies were my favorite team, but I didn’t know their record when I drove two hours to catch them at Veterans Stadium just after I had gotten my driver’s license. I can’t recall Steve Carlton’s E.R.A. during September the year they won the World Series, or the final score of the game where I saw Harold Baines of the White Sox, who I’d never even heard of before, hit a triple and a home run at Yankee Stadium. But I do remember how I felt when the Phillies won the World Series in 1980, or when I met one of my favorite players, Garry Maddox, for the first time.
I’d like to think I am good with numbers, so memory is not the issue. Rather, despite baseball’s obsession with counting and accumulating, what actually sticks and stands the test of time are the personal experiences we share with the game.
This is not to deny that numbers are endemic to baseball’s soul. We know 714. We know 56, maybe even 4,192, and we know who wore 42. We know the iconic numbers, but the day-to-day connection we make with teams and players comes instead from how closely we can touch the fabric of its train — just as when the Phillies catcher Bob Boone signed a photo card to me after I had mailed my first fan letter, for instance.
Now major league baseball is in overdrive, stalking the players who inflated those numbers most until they submit, with the zeal of a new convert who has seen the light.
That light now shines in Alex Rodriguez’s direction, illuminating the emptiness of his choices. Statistically, his career rivals some of the best players of all time, but we’ve stopped talking about his numbers. His quantifiable performance is no longer part of the debate; his numbers have become irrelevant in measuring who he is as a baseball player.
It is the great trick that the game played on him. You can take performance-enhancing drugs to fool the game into believing that you dominated and endured. You can break records that seemed unbreakable. It can all lead to a contract that surpasses the gross domestic products of some nations. But as the drugs give your stats greater value, they take away everything else. They turn around and destroy the qualitative and sustainable inspiration you could have provided, maybe to fans like me when I was young. Numbers mean nothing when you stop knowing what they are actually counting and why.
There used to be a reason we were counting. It helped build a story. Numbers allowed us to compare players within a generation or an era, and across leagues, countries and decades. They tallied how you ranked in any category and subcategory of your choosing. Or, better yet, in ways that may have mattered just to you in that quiet moment playing with your son in the backyard.
You accumulated because each chip was a singular flake of gold from the game. I had 1,100 hits in my career, but none were as magical as number 1, and none as emotional as numbers 999, 1,000 and 1,001, which all came the day my father died.
Numbers can have meaning because of what we bring to them. Their value, and meaning, may change over time. But when all that matters is the numbers as numbers, you have zeros.
Alex Rodriguez’s numbers have been hollowed out by his choices. They have become transparent and weightless, like a glass lens that fell off the Hubble telescope tumbling into deep space.
Yet his career can still have meaning if he sees the opportunity that is — barely — left in his grasp. The drugs will always taint his numbers, but they may have left him a chance to create something enduring that can be a source of hope for the game. Redemption is one important lesson the game has always imparted to its fans. Baseball is capable of forgiveness, as we have seen, but you have to make the gesture and ask for it.
His probable appeal of the suspension will allow him to play again until his case is heard. He is buying time and also allowing his performance to speak for him while he waits. But when he does speak, will he ask the right question?
Before I played a single game of professional baseball, I was a fan. If my brother and I weren’t chipping the paint off our parents’ garage door with wayward pitches during an extra-inning session of Wiffle ball, we were playing simulated games like Strat-O-Matic or baseball on our then popular ’80s Intellivision video game system.
When I reflect on the ways I connected with the game, I remember moments from my childhood. Meeting Tommy Lasorda in the Dodgers’ hotel lobby in San Francisco, seeing Darryl Strawberry’s debut at Shea Stadium, hearing Vin Scully or Joe Garagiola call the “Game of the Week.” The voices, the players, the coaches, the stadiums.
It is a sentiment that gets lost in the performance-enhancing-drug mess surrounding Alex Rodriguez, who today was suspended through the 2014 season (pending a possible appeal). Performance-enhancing drugs thrive in a baseball environment obsessed with the cantilever between pitcher and hitter, opportunity and failure, the home run and the glove man, the quantitative and the qualitative. With all of this balance, numbers often tip the scale, and when it’s in a player’s interest to use numbers to gain value, he will do so, especially if his contract depends on it.