Baseball in April is about beginnings and newness. • This season, though, gets going just months after the release of the Mitchell Report, which laid out who did what during more than a decade of steroid abuse. "The illegal use of performance-enhancing substances," the 311-page document concluded, "poses a serious threat to the integrity of the game." • And yet fans keep coming, and in record numbers, too. Baseball is as popular as it's ever been. • This odd dichotomy raises questions — questions that go beyond baseball — about what's real, what's not, and what that even means anymore. • Here are excerpts of things people have written and said about steroids and modern life (see sources, 3E). Are there connections? Is this something we should be thinking about?
1. We are a juiced nation.
2. Bonds himself had never used anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake from the health-food store. But as the 1998 season unfolded, and as he watched Mark McGwire take over the game — his game — Barry Bonds decided that he, too, would begin using what he called "the s---."
3. Brian McNamee has given federal investigators bloody gauze pads, vials and syringes he said he used to inject Roger Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone in 2000 and 2001.
4. So our sports heroes taught our youth a few lessons this past season. Life lessons. Such as cheating, disobeying the law and lying. Nice.
5. It's like Blow meets Almost Famous meets Major League.
6. "The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous. It sends the wrong message that there are shortcuts to accomplishment."
7. Major League Baseball, a high-ranking official of the World Anti-Doping Agency proclaims, is a sport in turmoil. That's the word he used — turmoil.
8. Home run records have been rendered meaningless, and every player wearing a major-league uniform has fallen under suspicion.
9. "The sport has never been healthier."
10. Major League Baseball's revenue has more than tripled since Bud Selig took over as commissioner in 1992.
11. The business of baseball has never been so successful. Major League Baseball's revenues are exploding. They are projected to hit $6-billion this season. . . . The game had record attendance of 79.5-million last season. This year, with a recession looming over the United States, baseball expects to rewrite that number again.
12. "We're all here to watch a baseball game, but we also have to keep our fans entertained.
. . . As ticket prices go up, people's expectations go up."
13. "I've talked to a lot of young people. They aren't bent out of shape about this. I think in the under-40 crowd, it's strictly entertainment, and if they use drugs to make it more entertaining, whatever."
14. "I don't care what these guys take as long as they put on a good show."
15. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
16. Just in the last month, two celebrated memoirs have been unmasked as fiction. . . . Margaret Seltzer was not a foster-child gang member in South Central Los Angeles, and Misha Defonseca was not protected from the Nazis by wolves.
17. Millions of readers who bought James Frey's A Million Little Pieces were sold something less than the truth. . . . In January 2006, the Smoking Gun Web site revealed that Frey's memoir of addiction and recovery contained numerous fabrications.
. . . "Amazingly, the book remained a best seller for another 26 weeks."
18. Robert Fine is . . . a 36-year-old engineer who lives in Washington, D.C., and buys Washington Nationals season tickets each year. In December, Fine created a Web site called zerotolerancefor
baseball.org. The goal: to launch a petition drive to lobby Commissioner Bud Selig for tougher penalties for steroid use. . . . He hoped for 1-million signatures by March 15. As of midday Friday, he had 58.
19. "We're entertainers. Let us entertain."
20. Don't look behind the curtain. Just move on.
21. Americans are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution. Depending on how the questions are asked, roughly 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe in each.
22. "Reality" shows don't even have to be real, proven by last year's admission by producers of The Hills that some scenes of the show about 20-something girls trying to make it in Los Angeles were staged.
23. The (Bush) aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment and principles and empiricism. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued.
24. Think of the Internet: an unimaginably powerful tool for education but also a Wild West of random self-expression in which anyone can say anything about anything (or anyone) and have it "published," and which has already made problematic the line between truth and falsehood, expert and amateur opinion, authentic and inauthentic identities, reality and fantasy. That pervasive blurriness, the casualness about reality that results when you can turn off entire worlds simply by unsubscribing, changing a screen name, or closing your laptop, is what ups the cultural ante just now. It's not that frauds haven't been perpetrated before; what's worrisome is that . . . the question people are raising isn't whether the amazing story is true, but whether it matters if it's true. Perhaps the most dismaying response to the James Frey scandal was the feeling on the part of many readers that, true or false, his book had given them the feel-good, "redemptive" experience they'd hoped for.
Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4617.