Earlier this week, Joel Peralta was caught cheating. He had Pine Tar in his glove. It is against the rules. Obviously, in post game interviews, Joe Maddon, the Rays manager, was apologetic and let the media know this sort of activity would not be tolerated, and that Joel would have to serve his punishment, as a lesson to little Rays fans in the Tampa Bay community that you are not allowed to gain an unfair advantage by breaking the rules.
Oh wait. My bad. That wasn’t Maddon’s response at all. As a matter of fact, he went on the offensive, basically calling Washington Manager Davey Johnson a lowly tattle tail. He accused the Nationals of wrong doing the same way a tent dwelling cluster of Phish fans would call out a narc. He could have thrown Peralta under the bus in public, then meekly sought out his relief pitcher to console him for the obligatory public berating over something “everybody does.” But instead, he decided to “stand up” for his player, admonishing anyone who dared to label cheating as, well… cheating.
Baseball might be losing popularity, but it is still a window into the psyche of America. Baseball, throughout its history, has served as a gauge of American standards and values. At the dawn of Pro baseball, players like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson embodied the industrious nature of the country. Johnson would rarely take a day off, and Cobb would slide spikes up into home to give his team a chance to survive. As the roaring twenties culture migrated westward from Harlem, so too did the stories of the Legendary Babe Ruth, known as much for his gregarious nature as he was for his Hitting (and Pitching) dominance. The Greatest Generation gave us Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio, renowned for their down to earth humble attitudes as much as their sky high batting average altitudes. Reggie Jackson’s boisterous ego was ushered in to the sound track of Saturday Night Fever. When gang warfare and crack infiltrated the country, American’s awaited the inevitable demise of Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa waged their epic homerun battle, bringing baseball back into the public eye. Bud Selig let out a deep sigh of relief as the sport was saved from the pit of despair brought on by the strike of 1994. No one was alarmed that Brady Anderson hit roughly 25% off his career home runs in one year. There was little if any attention paid to the fact that Roger Clemens was magically resurrecting his career, behind the strength of a 95 mph sinker. America had finally found a pair of blinders that fit perfectly. So comfortable, so liberating, and so integral to the success of Sammy Sosa and Bernie Madoff.
A decade later, Madoff is in prison, and our congress is trying as hard as they can to provide him with an MLB cellmate. It appears that we Americans have had enough when it comes to dealing with frauds. Hey McGwire, we loved watching you, but we will never put you in our Hall of Fame. Madoff, we thought you were a genius as our stocks grew at an unprecedented rate. But now that we know how you did it, we hope you are condemned to living with a 400 pound serial rapist for the rest of your days. Roger Clemens was just aquitted, and our cumulative assumptions that he weaseled his way out of punishment will probably keep the most dominant pitcher of the last 50 years from ever even being allowed to take his grandkids on a field trip to Cooperstown. Baseball and Ponzi Schemes even mated during the lucrative age of cross marketing. And everyone knows how popular sports video games are. That’s baseball for you, more than a past time, truly a sign of the times.
Back to Maddon. As a Tampa resident, I have come to love and respect our quirky manager. His most endearing quality is his frankness. He doesn’t tiptoe during interviews, and he lets off steam during press conferences. As a White Sox fan, the pain of losing Ozzie this offseason was slightly offset by the fact the next best thing was right in my back yard. As someone that usually avoids baseball discussions on sports talk radio, I can tell you it takes a special talent to get me to tune in during my morning drive when it’s the NFL offseason. Joe Maddon was worth listening too though.
And that is what is so frustrating about his stance on the Peralta incident. It ruins some of the credibility he had built with me. It reminded me of our legislators reaction to the recent acknowledgement of horrifying drone attacks on civilian populations. Rather than being upset with a policy that will undoubtedly create more terrorists than it destroys, politicians voiced their displeasure over the compromise in security, demanding to know how such information was leaked. But, unfortunately, I expect such nonsense from our public officials. Oddly, I expect more integrity out of Joe Maddon.
And that might be the saddest revelation baseball has provided me in some time. Once again, baseball has indicated the true state of our Nation.