And you though things couldn't get any worse for Cubs pitching? Now it looks like reliever Joe Borowski is out for at least six weeks. Add that to the fact that the Cubs don't even have a real closer, and you've got real trouble.
Cubs pitching aside, the big winner so far this week is Major League Baseball, because nobody's paying attention to it. Sports fans are rivetted by the NCAA basketball tournament, and Congress with its 24-hour news cycle attention span has moved on to obsessing about Terri Schiavo as its latest ploy to distract attention away from the president's horrific budget. These ploys have distracted even me, although some time this week I intend to tackle the budget here no matter what's happening in the So Called News Media.
So baseball's getting a free pass. And I can't attack it with even the pretend fairness I bring to everything else. Even as I write this I keep glancing over at my Mark Prior-signed baseball for support. I don't want to be objective, reasonable, or critical. I just want upper deck seats the the World Series at Wrigley Field. But the question that was burning in everyone's mind for a couple days last week before the Illini game seemed to erase all memory of it is still bothering me. Was 1998 a lie?
After labor troubles cancelled the 1994 Series, fan interest in baseball bottomed out. People didn't care so much, probably because they realized how many players, managers, and owners were selfish, mercenary brats with no loyalty to anybody. But the summer of 1998 brought people back to the game, mostly because of the "home run derby" between Mark McGuire of St. Louis and Sammy Sosa of the Cubs, in which they both smashed all previous home run records and McGuire ended up with the astounding new record of 70 in a season.
And now it looks like the reason both players hit so hard that year was because they were shooting performance enhancing drugs. "So what?" some people ask. "Why don't we let them all take whatever they want and play as well as they can? It's exciting that way."
Here's why it's important. The flaw in the American character is the Cowboy. Not actual cowboys, mind you - it's just as honorable a way to make a living as any other way. I mean the Cowboy as a state of mind - the lone man alone on the plains, living by his own lights, accountable to no one but his own code of honor. You can't really live like that. Without society and the state, we're all just a bunch of barbarians. Do you have any idea what the murder rate was in the Old West? Or in 1870's San Francisco? It was worse than the movies, becasue there were no white hats, just thugs. It has to be that way. If your neighbors are willing to use violence to get what they want, you have to do so as well, or else you lose. You can argue self defence, but your neighbor probably would, too. Social life just doesn't work without rules. Americans like to believe in "Enlightened Self-Interest" and the idea that if everybody does what's best for themselves, you'll get the best outcome for everybody. Which is about the stupidest thing I've ever heard. In the absence of rules, what's best for me is stealing all your stuff and beating you up if you try to stop me. For instance.
News Flash: Steroids are bad for you. They cause heart attacks, cancer, and shrink your balls down to the size of peanuts. And if one guy is all hopped up on them, how is everybody else supposed to compete with him if they're not taking the drugs as well? Is that what we want to tell the teenagers practicing in the ball field at Roberto Clemente High? "You, too, can be a ball player someday if you work hard, believe in yourself, and shoot yourself full of dangerous chemicals." How inspiring.
I love baseball. I want to love Baseball. The 2001 Series in which the Diamondbacks showed up those damn arrogant Yankees, the Cubs' miraculous 2003 run, the Red Sox winning the Series at last, those are some of the most inspiring things I've ever seen. But the money, the politics, the corruption, and yes, the cheating - and most of all Baseball's inability to come clean about it and change its ways - these things are starting to turn off a lot of people. My patience grows thin.