Magazine article The New Yorker

Green

Magazine article The New Yorker

Green

Article excerpt

Baseball impends, and, with the flags aloft in the Bronx and, next week, at Shea, fans will grab at the chance to forget about the abysmal closing innings in these neighborhoods last fall. The looming left-field presences of the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field, where the clubs will be playing a year from now, invite visions of glory days ahead and perhaps even an end to our bad thoughts about steroids. If the Juiced Era is fading, it was the sight of Roger Clemens, oozing indignation and unreliability as he testified before that congressional committee in February, that brought reality and some snickers to our gloomy take on the game. Major League Baseball's Mitchell Report, a four-hundred-and-nine-page document issued in December, began the curative process when it added certification to such household names as Clemens and Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and Gary Sheffield on the list of players who had probably bulked up with steroids or used human-growth hormone to hide a sore shoulder. Also listed were another eighty-odd player-users, with names like Larry Bigbie and Bart Miadich and Nook Logan, who wanted only to stick in the show. More past users may surface, the report admitted.

It's strange, but the news almost lightened our burdens. Barry Bonds has pleaded innocent to perjury charges regarding his testimony to a California grand jury about his alleged steroid use, while Clemens's testimony in Washington is under investigation by the F.B.I. for possible perjury, but word that the greatest slugger and the greatest pitcher of our time, or all time, stand blackened, along with dozens of others, doesn't mean that we should bring cartons of syringes to the park to fling on the field, or mark a decade of baseball records with asterisks, or dismiss whole teams as part of a generation of cheaters. It's a dilemma, and Clemens, huge and fidgety on the stand, represented it perfectly. He was deeply weird, granting advance face time to the same congresspersons who were to hear his testimony; full of himself as a guy who would play for love of the game; diverging under oath from his Yankee teammate and pal Andy Pettitte over two "misremembered" conversations about drug use; and, deep into Britney country now, expressing shock that his wife, Debbie (she backed him up about this), had received an injection of HGH in the family bedroom in preparation for a photo in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

In some way, we almost knew about Roger in advance, the way we've always known that the lifetime home-run mark, "baseball's most hallowed record," has been rubberized in the cause of higher numbers. Alex Rodriguez, with five hundred and eighteen lifetime homers, plays half his games in Yankee Stadium, where it's three hundred and ninety-nine feet to the left-center-field wall; Joe DiMaggio swung for the same fence when it was four hundred and seventy feet away. Pitchers' mounds in DiMaggio's day were fifteen inches high but in 1969 were lowered to ten inches, to make them more dinger-prone. Not much later, the strike zone shrank down to the size of a cellar window. Lore like this is amazing to kids, but it doesn't count for much except when editorialists and sports columnists begin to go all trembly about the sanctity of old records.

Baseball remains hard to play, at times harshly unforgiving, and players react differently to its onerous day-to-day. DiMaggio fuelled himself with ten to fifteen cups of coffee a day; Roger Maris's hair came out in handfuls when he was pursuing Babe Ruth's home-run record; and Chuck Knoblauch (who is mentioned as a user in the Mitchell Report) had stretches with the Yankees when tension made it impossible for him to deliver the peg reliably to first base from his post near second, seventy or eighty feet away. …

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