Sunday, March 13, 2005

Say it Aint So

Legend has it that when a young fan learned that Shoeless Joe Jackson was implicated in the 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal, he saw Joe Jackson outside the stadium and said those immortal words, “Say it aint so, Joe.” Many believe that this is nothing more than legend, a story that is a metaphor for the way many baseball fans, young and old, felt when they learned that the 1919 Chicago White Sox had allegedly thrown the World Series. A scandal like that, involving people you respect, in a sport you love, can have the effect of making you feel like a kid who for the first time has his youthful idealism crushed.

I feel that way today. Those of you who know me, understand the role baseball has played in my life. It was the only sport I watched when I was young, and my favorite sport to play. Little League was not just organized baseball, it was real, it was my life. And during that time, I had one hero above all others, Mark McGwire. I saw him hit home runs in Yankee Stadium, and I waited in lines to get his autograph. I followed the Oakland Athletics of the late 1980s, with a World Series victory in 1989 sandwiched in between two crushing losses in 1988 and 1990. I followed McGwire's ups and downs, always believing in him. When Major League Baseball went on strike in 1994 and canceled the World Series, I began to distance myself from baseball. I probably stopped going to games, stopped watching it on TV, and I think I even stopped having catches with my dad. But one baseball player brought me back around - Mark McGwire. In 1998 McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased one of baseball’s immortal records, Roger Maris’ single season home run record. I was caught up, as was the rest of America, in their pursuit of history. They were on different teams, but appeared to be the best of friends. Both were excited the other was with them on the chase. Although together they brought fans back to baseball, to me only McGwire mattered. His 62nd home run that year is a baseball memory I will never forget.

But I write all this with a heavy heart. At first, I dismissed Jose Canseco’s allegations that McGwire used steroids. Canseco never had much credibility in my eyes. But the story in today’s New York Daily News is too believable for me to close my eyes anymore. Even I am not that naive. Those making the allegations have nothing to gain, and the New York Daily News is a relatively respectable news organization. I will still hold out hope that it is untrue though. Hope - the word symbolizes the game of baseball itself. They say hope springs eternal with each new baseball season. Spring is the season of rebirths and new beginnings. And for baseball, every team starts fresh with a chance to win the World Series. As the days get longer, the temperatures get warmer, your hopes and dreams for your team’s championship begin. For now, my hope rests not on the Yankees, but on the chance that maybe this story is untrue. But I am not optimistic and some of my youthful idealism was lost today. Say it aint so, Mark. Say it aint so.