Monday, June 1, 2009

The Taint

"Chin Music" Boston Baseball, June 2009

From Curt Schilling’s blog, 38 Pitches, May 8, 2009:

“For the past 19 years or so I’ve had suspicions, some stronger than others, but to sit here today and say I played on even one team that was totally clean would be denying reality… I played pretty much my entire career in the Steroid Era.”

Those words are pretty damning. Although Schilling goes on to stridently proclaim his own innocence, denying he ever used any PED in any form, and calls the notion that Boston’s two most recent world championships were tainted “a load of crap,” his own admission provides evidence to those who feel otherwise.

As I have written before, I find every championship of the last twenty years, if not tainted, then certainly tarnished. But that is something for each of us to decide how we feel for ourselves, and I respect those who disagree with me on this point.

But the Steroid Era did leave a taint, one that may not diminish the accomplishment of any one team but certainly does leave a stain upon certain individuals.

Make that every individual. No player of the era, clean or not, comes away untarnished, and that includes Schilling. While he may have been the only virgin in the whorehouse, as those around him were putting anything and everything into their systems, Schilling nevertheless benefitted – quite a few of those home runs won him some pretty big ballgames - and for the vast bulk of his career, he kept his suspicions to himself while he accepted the glory – and the championship rings – that might not have been acquired totally on the square. Schilling, like most players, states in effect that so many guys were using it all evens up and even though he had suspicions he never actually saw anyone take anything, and gosh darn it, you just can’t accuse someone because of some darn suspicion.

True enough. But he might as well be wearing one of those “Stop Snitching” t-shirts that were all the rage in gangland a few years ago. Because a person of conviction might have stood up and taken a stand, gone public and proclaimed long and loudly that the game was dirty and something should be done, the personal consequences be damned. Schilling may have ended up a pariah among his peers, but he could have looked himself in the mirror without doing a moral back flip. Yet Schilling, like virtually every other professional ballplayer, stayed silent, took the money, looked the other way and became adept at the same kind of self delusion that allows corruption to flourish in any institution.

At its core, that’s what the Steroid Era represents – corruption. Everyone agreed to go along to get along because the turnstiles were spinning and the contracts were getting bigger and more lucrative every year and fans were so swept up in the spectacle that no price was too high to pay for the privilege of watching. All players who knew better and stayed silent are no better than the residents of any community that look the other way as criminal syndicates or gangs act with impunity. Only no one was going to kill a ballplayer for speaking out – they just wouldn’t get asked to dinner. The corruption of the Steroid Era floated all financial boats. Only a sucker would have turned down that, right?

Those in the front office fare no better. Uber GM’s like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein, and managers like Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and, yes, Terry Francona are also tarnished. Who is Billy Beane minus Giambi and Tejada, or Joe Torre without Pettitte and Clemens, or LaRussa without Canseco and McGwire?

Epstein and Francona without Manny, that’s who. Simply two more names whose personal success is so inexorably bound up with the Steroid Era that, like Schilling and Manny, it is impossible to measure their accomplishments with any certainty. And that is what, in the end, taints everything and everyone. Ask yourself, would any of these men have succeeded in an era without steroids? We will never, ever know.

And neither will they.

Glenn Stout hopes he won’t have to write about this again, but suspects he may have to. His next book Young Woman & Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, will be published in July. You may contact Glenn at

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