Bonds. Sosa. McGwire. A-Rod. Manny. Clemens. All names that just years ago were exalted as American heroes, each having re-written baseball’s record books. Now every one wallows in shame, having been exposed as a cheater.
In doing so, each one of these players has stolen something. They’ve stolen records from our most revered heroes like Hank Aaron. They’ve stolen millions of dollars, having been paid enormous contracts based on numbers they didn’t earn. And they’ve stolen championship rings from other, more deserving players.
For years, the American media and baseball fans simply refused to see what was in front of their eyes. Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61 stood for 37 years, then was broken by two players in the same year in 1998. Three years later, the new record of 70 was bested by Barry Bonds, who hit 73. Sammy Sosa hit more than 60 home runs three times. Roger Clemens won three Cy Young awards before age 34, and four afterwards – including one at age 41, when he went 18-4 with the Houston Astros.
We came up with plenty of excuses. The ballparks were smaller. The balls were juiced. Players were eating better and working out more. We were so enamored with the fairy tale that we refused to believe the most obvious of explanations. Even after it became clear that steroids were wiping the record books clean, the players’ supporters made excuses – steroids couldn’t make you hit the ball farther, they said. Pitchers couldn’t use it because they’d get too bulky and muscular.
The example of steroids in baseball has uncovered what truly has become America’s newest pastime – choosing to ignore facts that are staring us in the face. We put on a blindfold and jam our fingers in our ears to block out any information that might be uncomfortable in the short term, but could be disastrous over time.
Sadly, baseball is perhaps the least important instance where we’re willfully deceiving ourselves based on the evidence before us. For years, we thought it would be a great idea to give zero percent down home mortgages to high risk homeowners, merely so we could say we were helping people afford houses. Naturally, when these lenders began to fail, the economy came crashing down faster than Rafael Palmiero’s Hall of Fame chances.
Today, we’re being told that we can have government spend its way out of a recession, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary. We are being told that when health care is free, that people will actually use less of it. (Remember the lines outside George Webb restaurants when the Brewers started the season 13-0 in 1987 and the restaurant was giving out free burgers?)
We are told that we need to make it more expensive for employers to keep their employees, then we’re shocked when businesses move jobs overseas. We are told that the same government that has reigned over years of massive deficits is going to teach General Motors how to turn a profit. (Which is somewhat like baseball putting Jose Canseco in charge of its steroid policy.)
In Wisconsin, we continue to choose to ignore facts that should instruct our behavior for the better. We seem to believe that the growing structural deficits our state government is running have nothing to do with higher taxes, as the state raises taxes by over $3 billion to try to fix it. Our politicians tell us that they can prevent businesses (oil companies, hospitals) from passing along tax increases to the consumer, despite no recorded case in human history where consumers didn’t end up paying more for goods and services to offset the tax. We vilify banks who loan exorbitant sums of money to individuals, then our state government turns around and increases its own borrowing by $3.3 billion during a recession.
And yet we roll on, completely unwilling to draw any connection between our current plight and the actions of our government. To Americans, two plus two now equals “don’t bother me right now.”
Baseball still has the ability to do what’s right. It can grant Hank Aaron and Roger Maris their rightful records back, and permanently recognize the Steroid Era for what is was (and continues to be).
But where do we go to get our economy back? Where do people who have lost their jobs because of excessive taxes and business regulation go to recoup those lost paychecks? How do we un-do all the damaging programs set into motion for the aggrandizement of political careers and not for the betterment of our citizens?
Ironically, many Americans this summer will seek respite from such questions out at the ballpark. In a bad economy, they will enjoy paying six dollars for a hot dog to pay Alex Rodriguez’ steroid-inflated salary.
-June 29, 2009