Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Baseball's Latest Witch Hunt: Shame of the Game

Usually, I look forward to reading the weekend papers, catching up on how the Lakers, Dodgers, Galaxy, and Bruins did, while trying to find time to squeeze in a few columns. Today was an exception. The latest installment of baseball’s witch hunt, which has affixed a scarlet letter (*) to my favorite player, sickens me. Now that it has hit home, I feel the need to respond to a sampling of today’s columns:

Yesterday, Bill Plaschke of the LA Times virulently banished Manny from Dodgertown adopting the voice of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and, when, the Dodger’s faithful still showed their support of Manny, he turned his vituperation on them. Plaschke, who is generally-speaking a respectable journalist, sunk as low as to compare us to SF Giants fans for their continued support of Bonds. A low blow though it was, I’ll take it for reasons to be explained below. Kurt Streeter of the Times was dismayed by the lack of outrage on the part of Dodger’s fans. What he doesn’t get is WE GET IT. Jack Curry of the NY TIMES wants to ban him from the HOF—as absurd an idea as banning Pete Rose or Barry Bonds. (By the way, how can we even argue for Jim Rice while Charlie Hustle is still on the outs???) And, Jayson Stark of ESPN brazenly, and prematurely, declared the end of Mannywood, suggesting we “forget, not forgive”!

What we get and self-proclaimed baseball purists don’t is that baseball is a game, entertainment, a diversion. It is a game of heroes and all of Western culture—from Homer to Rabelais to Hemingway—has shown us that our gods are more effective when they are flawed—or in other terms, when they are human . We prefer a demi-god to an unknowable almighty. Baseball is a game of heroes… and a game of scandals. In fact, baseball’s biggest stars are often it’s most scandalous: Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe, Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Daryl Strawberry, etc.—and we rally around them.

In past posts, I’ve compared this witch hunt to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; however, in the Steroid Era, I think that maybe a classic film is just as befitting: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s post-Vichy era (France’s equivalent of McCarthyism) “Le Corbeau” (The Raven). As a series of poison-pen letters violently divide a small French community, casting doubt on everyone, the most likeable character of the film reveals to the central protagonist that he shoots up (“Je me drogue. Je me pique.”) At the same time of his confession, he demonstrates that life is not as Manichean as many would like—that light and dark are more variable than they seem. [SPOILER ALERT] Even when he proves to be the Raven (the letter writer), we still are affected by his sociological experiment of what happens to a society when it tries to pit the morality of individuals against the community. Where is light? Where is truth? How does knowing truth effect us?

Maybe San Franciscans are right: live and let live. Get behind your heroes when they’re down. (Even as a Dodgers fan, I still admitted Barry was one of the greatest ever.) Mannywood is on hold for 48 more games; but, I will be there, arms wide open, to greet my—now more human—hero when Manny jogs out to left on July 3rd!


Corry Cropper said...

He's paying the price and then he'll be back. Once he has done the time, I say welcome him back and cheer for him. Maybe if Pete Rose had been suspended and then played again, we could have put that whole mess in the past, too. Giamati.... alas.

SM Sprenger said...

Corry makes a good point: anthropologically the "god" emerges only after he's been symbolically killed and no longer a threat to the moral order. You're not supposed to like him while he's in the period of 'abasement' or you appear to be associated with the immorality. At the same time, there is something fundamentally dishonest and smarmy about going after sportsmen for infractions that have little to do with performance enhancement. Most of pious rage, after all, is coming from the fat drunks in the bleachers. Maybe they should take a look inside..