Damn You, Carlos Almanzar

[from The Sports Cartel / December 11, 2007]

In less than 48 hours, the most hotly-anticipated document in the history of modern sports will arrive just in time to be forgotten and swept under the rug by spring training. Names will be named. Cheaters will be outed. Players and management will be shown up. Legends and nobodies alike will be either vindicated or exposed as just another consumer of something they shouldn’t be consuming.

So many are concerned about punching holes in the aura around the game or the dispelling of the magic of what happens on the baseball diamond. Boyhood heroes reduced to common criminals. Fans cast as suckers.

Those people have it all wrong.

The real horror of the Mitchell Report, and of what it’s going to have to say about the so-called Steroid Era, is that we as fans and consumers will have to face a very ugly, very awful truth: steroids are really, really boring. Okay, so the home runs were only partially legitimate. Okay, radar gun readings were chemically inflated. Okay, wild pennant races and magical seasons weren’t really all that wild and magical. But if the past is any indication, all we’re in for is a reminder of the banality of cheating, so to speak.

For every Jose Canseco or Rafael Palmeiro, there have been 10 Juan Salases or Jorge Piedras. Everyone wants the juicy story, to see a Roger Clemens or a Gary Sheffield knocked down a peg or two. Given what a small percentage of the game is made of those legitimate superstars, and given the huge numbers thrown out about how prevalent performance-enhancing drugs are in baseball, the more likely scenario is that we have to acknowledge that it wasn’t so much the stars but the benchwarmers, the reserves, the Manny Alexanders of the world who had us fooled all along.

All of which raises an interesting question about how this all could affect us as Sox fans. With the exception of Canseco and Scott Schoeneweis, there haven’t been any Southsiders outed in the press as juicers, but it would be naive to assume the organization as a whole was “clean.”

So what of the names that come up? Would something like the Sox’ 2005 run be lessened? What if it were just a bit player or two whose name were splayed across the headlines? Could it become situational? If Player A wasn’t a regular, or wasn’t a starter at their position, or was just call-up, or was just OK at their job, does it sting less?

Geoff Blum. Willie Harris. Brandon McCarthy. Brian Anderson. These were not season-long stars for that team, but in their small ways they were pivotal. Anderson spelling Aaron Rowand. McCarthy keeping the wolves at bay down the stretch. Blum ending Game 3. Willie ending Game 4.

The point here is not to draw out some lame “that team never gave up” sentiment, nor is it to retread old themes about some years being awesome. The point is that in a game like baseball – one of the few true team games – every player’s accomplishments are a direct result of every other player’s accomplishments. Each play in the course of nine innings is a link in a longer chain; in the end, either everyone wins or else no one wins.

That’s baseball. That’s steroids. Sad that the two are so similar.