Say it ain’t so, Manny

After reading the news yesterday and reading my colleague’s insightful blog on Manny Ramirez, I had to chime in on the situation. Just when you think the air may be clear in MLB, it clouds up again with accusations and evidence of wrongdoing. Because it’s baseball the effects are huge on the game, the world of sports betting and society. (Yes, even society.)

For me, the sport that I love the most, that I am most connected with and from which I hold some of the best and worst memories of my life is baseball. I grew up with the sport, became a fan and and played it. For the past eight year, I’ve even been lucky enough to coach it. It’s a connection that I have with my dad and my kids. I still have the scorecards from when I saw Mantle and Yaz and Clemente and many others play. I was at the one-game playoff in Fenway when Dent hit that innocent flyball over the Green Monster, I saw Yaz get his 3,000th hit (I was sitting on the first base side of the grandstand) and I heard my son, many years ago after waiting almost two hours to get Nomar’s autograph say as he looked at his autographed baseball, “this is the best day of my life.” And it was.

So when someone like Manny (or any other player) but especially a great one breaks the rules, it simply makes me stop believing for awhile. I know I’m going to have to talk to a bunch of eight, nine and ten year olds tomorrow at our first game of our season about what Manny did. I’m thinking, all of them will know it’s wrong. I’m not looking forward, though to their cynicism. Yeah, kids that young are cynical now. And one of my jobs, along with making sure they are having safe fun, learn baseball skills and play competitively, is to undercut the cynicism. But guys like Rameriz, Clemens, Bonds and McGuire make that part of my job tough. 

For me it becomes about teaching through example. Making sure each kid learns and exemplifies good sportmanship and fair play. Maybe, I think, that will help them see what’s important. Maybe they will really believe that the toughest person they have to compete against in sports and other parts of their lives is looking at them in the mirror– themselves. And part of that competition will be to trust that each one of them can find what he/she needs to compete and possibly win by playing by the rules. 

For the game of baseball, this incident is yet another blow that makes me wonder why I should care about this great game that has simply become a testing site for deception and thievery. Yeah, Manny and company, every time one of you uses an illegal substance…(I don’t even have to know about it)… I feel stupid for being deceived and I feel as though I’ve been robbed of all those things I learned from my dad through the sport of baseball. And I’m not talking about hitting, fielding, running or any of that. These are character things that I learned. True, there are guys like Dustin Pedroia setting a standard for excellence and fairness. But the news doesn’t focus on guys like him. The lights like the dark realms of scandal.

I’m thinking maybe MLB sportsbetting sites need to start a new type of wager. There’s the run line. Maybe they can also have another bet– the drug line. These would be adjusted run totals based on how many guys on a team might (and I emphasize might) be jacked up on one or more substances. I don’t know, is there an over/under on how many MLB players will be suspended for substance abuse this season? 

In the end if you can’t trust the guys playing the sport and the people administering the sport then you can’t trust the sport. I’m glad that MLB has finally taken a tough line on this issue. Manny is out for 50 games. Good. He should be. (Is he still getting paid?) That action by MLB will help maintain the integrity of baseball. But in any profession, there will always be people who want to win or get ahead by cheating. One way to curtail this to a degree, besides drug testing, is for the players and their union to take a tough stance. What are the chances of that actually happening?

As a kid supposedly said to Shoeless Joe jackson during the Black Sox Scandal, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” I’m asking Manny the same thing. The problem is these days too many times players say it ain’t so and it is. As it is with Manny.

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