What, exactly, did sportswriters think was going on in 1998, when a jacked up Sammy Sosa battled it out with Mark McGwire for the home run title?
In the Baltimore Sun, Peter Schmuck described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime event that transcended the usual competitive etiquette.” (He also said Sosa “negotiated the suspenseful home run chase with something you don’t see enough of in professional sports anymore. A smile.”)
In The Washington Post, Marc Fisher and Jon Jeter thought it was a “godsend for baseball” and analyzed the racial dynamics behind fans’ rooting preferences. (White folks wanted McGwire to win because he was a white man, which white folks denied.)
Sports Illustrated created charts following “the greatest home run chase” in baseball history.
You get the idea.
All of that was and remains true. The steroid era was good for baseball, especially in 1998, just four years after the strike.
It’s easy to forget just how much of a fiasco the strike was for the fans, but it really eroded the game’s popularity.
But then McGwire and Sosa came around. Fans again thrilled to the national pastime , the contest, the freak show exhibition. (Check out this video of McGwire taking batting practice. Note the fans’ reactions.)
No one was more excited than sportswriters.
Is there a group of people in this country more willing to overlook the obvious on their quest to file pretty copy?
Here in Chicago, we had a manager, Ozzie Guillen, who routinely ranted. (As an outside observer and White Sox fan, I thought Guillen was hilarious.)
But Steve Rhodes at the Beachwood Reporter pointed out, after Guillen’s suspension last spring for praising Fidel Castro, that the media let Guillen get away with homophobia and nonsense forever.
An example: “That was my best friend. He’ll say, ‘What’s up, you child molester?’ and I’ll say, ‘What’s up, you f**?’ That’s how I’ve said Hi to him since 1985. Where I come from we don’t judge by black or white or religion.”
Upon further review, I bet Guillen’s quotes in the newspaper are far tamer than what he would tell reporters in the press room.
Why? Because that’s what sportswriters do.
If the nation’s sportswriters were too stupid to tell that the heroes they praised in 1998 were gassed out of their minds, they’re too stupid to vote for the Hall of Fame.
I can sympathize with people who think Barry Bonds’ transformation from the great godson of Willie Mays to Darth Baseball is too grotesque to ignore.
I can sympathize with people who think Sammy Sosa’s inflated numbers and idiot savant schtick (remember when he pretended not to speak English in front of Congress?) is grating to common sense.
I can sympathize with people who frown upon Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens for abusing steroids.
But Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds all made their debuts on the Hall of Fame ballot yesterday and bombed.
Sosa, in particular, barely got enough votes to stay on the ballot next year, despite being one of only eight men to hit 600 homeruns.
And the same people voting against them are baseball writers who hailed them 15 years ago.