Integrity vs. Steroids




I try to look for the balance between subjects that I – as a Christian – should be vocal about. More often than not, I dig to the core of the subject and find the God given moral code still dictates the difference between right and wrong, even in the smallest of subjects. When deciding where God belongs, we tend to treat right and wrong questions like they are a choice of favorite color, void of any right or wrong answer. Although I occasionally lack disciplined delicateness in my delivery of opinion, I don’t often find a good reason for a Christian not to have an opinion in everyday matters; if in fact their opinion is rooted in morals.

I encourage other Christians to speak out as well! Tom Minnery wrote in the book Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture:

“The fact is, when hearts are changed by the gospel, sometimes those hearts begin to beat in new rhythms. These are the people who, renewed in Christ, begin to see with fresh eyes what is wrong, because the gospel has taught them what is right. They are the ones who cannot ignore what is happening around them, the ones who stand up and say, ‘Somebody has to do something!”

This is where you are now saying “but baseball…really…that’s a bit of a stretch”…You might be right, let’s take a look. Baseball might not be everyone’s forte, but since it is mine, I’m going to speak out about the recent steroid debacle.

The game of baseball – America’s pastime – is loved by many. I don’t take the score of my team as seriously as I take the game of baseball itself. As Jacques Barzun said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball!”. In Apologies to Thucydides – Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa, Marshall Sahlins writes:

“Perhaps we have underestimated sport the way we underestimate talk about the weather, as the integument of an otherwise divided and only imagined community. Tygiel notes DeLillo’s musing on this score: “Isn’t it possible that this midcentury moment [i.e., Bobby Thomson’s homer] enters the skin more lastingly than the vast shaping strategies of eminent leaders, generals steely in their sunglasses—the mapped visions that pierce our dreams?””

(NOTE: I’m not proclaiming alliance with all of Marshall Sahlins views, just noting a point worthy of discussion.)
Sports in general do not come close in rank of importance when compared to war, catastrophes, Presidential elections, etc., still though, pertinent moments of joy or sorrow in the world of baseball have left lasting impressions that bend the mind in a more memorable way. The shot heard round the world, the first time Jackie Robinson played in the MLB in 1947, or the game tying hit from David Freeze in 2011…These pivotal moments are there to stay in our minds.

Growing up, the most honorable man I knew was my Grandpa, he never won a purple heart, he never rushed into a burning building, and he never beat the career stats of Roger Maris. But he was a man of integrity, his compass between right and wrong was always facing true North. Every time I went to his house I would find myself walking through his music room to view the framed bat, ball, baseball card, and letters from teams that confirmed the talents that gained him a spot in the minor league HOF.

He may not have been Stan Musial, but he is my Stan Musial.

Though his career was cut short due to injuries, he was a true baseball purest. He had respect for the one sport that – for the most part – had remained the same since its beginnings. That is probably why my family has a love of the game that goes beyond the love of the players. As Yogi Berra said: “You can’t make up no trick plays” in the game of baseball. As the greats have noted time and time again, you can’t delay the clock, you can’t fake a play…There is an air of accountability and vulnerability in baseball that can’t be erased by time; you have to give the batter a chance, or you have to give him a base…either choice leaves you in inescapable vulnerability.

We encourage kids to strive for success, to be fair, and to live their lives with integrity. But those same kids who have dreams of becoming the next Pujols are now pressured into using steroids just to gain a name. Why do we know names like Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, etc? Because they achieved the impossible, they pushed the game to the limits by using pure talent. Sure, “chemically enhancing” ones game has been around forever, but not to the level it is today.

A little known fact is that Babe Ruth once tried to up his game by injecting himself with sheep testosterone, after missing a few games for “stomach cramps” he returned to playing the game naturally. Although people would like to point out the past attempts, we can factually state that today’s technology in the Performance Enhancement Drug development is far – FAR – beyond anything accessible before the 1980’s.

After Billy Hamilton had his final at bat in 1901, he had played 1591 games, had 1690 runs, 937 stolen bases, .455 on base %, and a .344 batting average. He did all of this without the use of performance enhancement drugs. He may not lead every category, and he may not be the best baseball player of all time, but what he did is nothing short of a gift. To be in the stands during that time and witness a God given gift – tuned and developed through hard work and dedication – was a gift in and of itself. And now to have players chemically enhancing themselves to outdo natural talent is appalling. Not only is it unfair, it is showing young fans all over the US that God given talent can be created in a lab and that chemically created talent deserves the same respect.

When Christy Mathewson played ball from 1900-1916. His nickname was “The Christian Gentleman” due to his devout Christian faith, he actually wouldn’t even pitch on Sundays. He is listed in the top 10 pitchers of all time, he was also the first to pitch the screwball. He lived with integrity on and off the field, his place in history was put there because of a God given talent, not a shot of steroids. For him to be knocked out of the top 10 by a pitcher playing without integrity would be the wrong message to send to aspiring kids everywhere.

Before 1998 Babe Ruth and Roger Maris were the only two players in history to have more than 60 homeruns in a year. After 1998 – within the next 3 years – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry bonds had “accomplished” SEVEN times what only TWO men had accomplished in the history of baseball. The frequency of such events removes the wonder and excitement when those rare anomalies are legitimate.

I personally want my nephew to strive to be like Christy Mathewson, not Ryan Braun or Mark McGwire. I want him to look at the game of baseball and at his Faith and know that integrity will take you places. How do we encourage integrity when cheap antics get your name pushed up in the record books?

I am a diehard fan of the Cardinals, everyone that knows me is aware of the fact that I’m a fan of the name on the front of the jersey, not just the back. It is because of this that I support strict punishment and frequent testing on ball players, even if they are on my own team. Forgive the man, but rejoice in justice. Be a fan of baseball, not just a fan of a popular player. Support integrity.

There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time.  I owe him my best.” – Joe Demaggio

Kids don’t put baseballs and bats in glass cases or up on walls because those baseballs and bats are somehow superior in ability to other baseballs and bats, they put them in their glass cases and on their walls because of the hands that used them. Remember that when you defend a players poor attitude and actions.

“Players that are guilty of taking steroids are not only cheaters, you are cowards. … Show our kids that you’re man enough to face authority, tell the truth and face the consequences. Instead, you hide behind the skirts of your union, and with the help of management and your lawyers you’ve made every effort to resist facing the public today.” — Donald Hooton, father of a high school baseball player who committed suicide in 2003 after steroid use.

The more we allow steroid use to be a means of success, the more we will encourage youth to take unhealthy and disappointing steps to gain their dreams. My Grandpa may have made his way to a list with the greats of baseball if life had gone differently, or he may have been another run of the mill player, but I am proud to say that I am more proud of his integrity than I could ever be in his ability to play. THAT is where we should place value. You want to change the culture of professional sports? That’s how you do it.

Baseball is not life, don’t get me wrong….Though labeled a fanatic, I still live in reality. So many productive metaphors have come from baseball – “Keep your eye on the ball!”, “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”, “It’s not over till it’s over”, etc…Please don’t encourage “If at first you don’t succeed, cheat.”… Because THAT does spill over into life, and unfortunately it’s another failing attribute running ramped in today’s society where hard work and dedication have been replaced with shortcuts and complacency.  

“Christy Mathewson brought something to baseball no one else had ever given the game. He handed the game a certain touch of class, an indefinable lift in culture, brains, and personality.” – Grantland Rice

Now that’s a legacy.

– MB