In Praise of the Unjuiced

April 04, 2004

Enough innuendo. Let's name names. It's time to embrace
McCarthyism--Charlie McCarthyism--and expose those in baseball
who are so unmuscled, so fungo-bat skinny, so
ventriloquist's-dummy diminutive that they couldn't possibly be
on steroids. Because baseball, on Opening Day, doesn't need a
blacklist. It needs a whitelist.

The Phillie Phanatic is steroid-free. His head not only has never
increased in size (such enlargement being a telltale sign of
abuse), it disappeared entirely in the off-season. While the
stolen head was returned a week later--not on a platter to
Herod's wife, but in a black sports bag to a radio station--he
remains at a competitive disadvantage to Mr. Met, whose official
team bio brazenly acknowledges, "His baseball head began to grow
in '69 and grew still larger from '73 to '86."

That same bio concludes, even more damningly, "Mr. Met's head is
the only earthbound orb with its own gravitational pull," an
assertion that overlooks former pitcher Tom (Buffalo Head)
Niedenfuer, whose noggin, projected on the Diamond Vision at
Dodger Stadium, was actual size. Still, we can't help but wonder
what Mr. Met's surname is short for: Metanabol? Metandiabol?
Metandren? Methyltestosterone? Methandrostenolonum?

But this is a whitelist, not a blacklist. Devil Rays coach Don
Zimmer, the Preparation H pitchman, has been on 'rrhoids, but
never on 'roids. His home park--Tropicana Field--is juiced, in an
effort to keep up with Minute Maid Park in Houston. But then,
even the ivy at Wrigley is rumored to be on Miracle-Gro.

Again, though--we've come to praise the comically biceped (Kent
Tekulve), not to bury the chemically biceped (Ken Caminiti). Now
that a shadow of suspicion falls on everyone who ever played the
game, we should exonerate Kyle (Skinny) Graham, Gene (Stick)
Michael and Starvin' Marvin Freeman, none of whom ever ingested
Ovaltine, much less creatine, to judge by their physiques.

Anthony Perkins in Fear Strikes Out--scarecrow-skinny in his Red
Sox flannels--requires no retroactive urinalysis. If Wee Willie
Keeler were playing today, would we make Willie Keeler wee?
Certainly not: He was 5'4" and weighed a buck forty.

A young Paul (Big Poison) Waner, at 153 pounds, could literally
have been blown away by a fastball. Unless it were thrown by
Bobby Shantz, who won 24 games in 1952 at 142 pounds and slept on
a resin bag on overnight train trips.

The point is, not all baseball records are tainted, and there
remain manifold modern-era players who are--blatantly,
nakedly--not using. If Randy Johnson were any thinner, he'd be a
Randy Johnson poster. Tony Gwynn was on KFC, not THG. John Kruk
never took steroids--or, alas, Altoids.

And yet, to read the papers over an endless winter of steroid
allegations, you would think it impossible to find a clean
ballplayer. You're searching for hay in a needlestack. Which is
why, now more than ever, we need optimism. For one day--Opening
Day--let's look at the game through rose-colored glasses. (But
not, please, through Rose-colored glasses, which turn every
landscape into the Santa Anita backstretch.)

What do we see? Pitchers like the Pirates' Oliver Perez--6'3" and
160 pounds--who have the arms and legs of marionettes. Infielders
like the Angels' David Eckstein, who looks, in his uniform, like
a number-22 pencil. Even sluggers like Ken Griffey Jr., whose 481
home runs are a feat more athletic than synthetic.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker has suggested that the federal steroid
investigation evokes the ghost of Joe McCarthy. We're hoping that
he didn't mean the red-baiting senator but rather the Red
Sox-baiting Yankees manager, whose Ten Commandments for Success
in Baseball included--at No. 6--a call to take responsibility for
one's actions: "Do not alibi on bad hops," said McCarthy.
"Anybody can field the good ones."

But it's unlikely that players will step forward voluntarily and
confess to never having taken steroids. So we're left to indulge
in idle speculation: Braves infielder Rafael Furcal and Red Sox
pitcher Pedro Martinez both have symptoms of the
performance-unenhanced: Which is to say, both are thinner than
Tuesdays with Morrie and have skulls that are fully grown.

In other cases, though, we may never know the truth. Perhaps
that's just as well. Que sera syringe. The last thing we want is
a version of the 1974 film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,
in which every sportswriter travels with a pair of those cranium
calipers popular among 19th-century phrenologists. Bring me the
head of Freddy Garcia, the Mariners pitcher? Heavens no.

Besides, enormousness is not in itself incriminating. Boog Powell
was on M&M's, not hGH. Frank Thomas of the White Sox was born
gigantic. And Americans grow ever larger by the month. It's hard
to believe now, but Reggie Jackson's playing weight was 200
pounds. The self-styled "straw that stirs the drink" was built
like an actual straw, swizzle-stick skinny compared with Thomas,
who is listed at 275. To put this another way: If the 1978
version of Mr. October were to attend a party in the Big Hurt's
uniform, he could smuggle the 65-pound, pinch-hitting midget
Eddie Gaedel and a nine-pound bowling ball past the bouncer, and
still have room in his pants for a pound of flour. Which would
raise the question, What the hell kind of party is this, anyway?

And can I come?

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

The shadow of steroid suspicion is now everywhere. If Wee Willie
Keeler were playing today, would we make Willie Keeler wee?

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)