BY JOEY MERKEL
Even as a kid, I never really fawned over the fantasy superheroes in comic books or TV shows. They weren’t real. Instead, it was the athletes that I always wanted to be like. Being strong, fast and to be able to play a game that I loved and make money doing it, now that was a dream.
Growing up, it was the “juniors” that I always looked up to. Specifically, Ken Griffey and Cal Ripken. A Baltimore native, Ripken Jr. was probably an easy choice for a hero. He was honest, hard working and a team player who played in a record 2,632 consecutive games.
For Griffey it was pure baseball. The prettiest swing, the biggest smile, he was even the reason why I started wearing my hat backward. He epitomized what a professional athlete should be; no scandals, humble and good to fans.
I was out to lunch on Saturday afternoon when I heard the news that hasn’t stopped being discussed on ESPN ever since. Paying at the register, there was a TV above the bar tuned to CNN or MSNBC, even now I can’t remember. It was up on the screen for such a short amount of time I thought I had to have been reading it wrong.
“Report: Sports Illustrated says Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003.”
Arguably the best player in baseball over the last 15 years, it was a shock to say the least.
Monday morning, Rodriguez sat down with ESPN’s Peter Gammons. He didn’t drag it out like Roger Clemens. He didn’t deny like Barry Bonds. He admitted to using steroids between 2001 and 2003 after signing a 10-year/$252 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
He looked us all in the eye and told the truth. But do we believe it? If no one can prove he used it before or after those dates, who’s to say that he isn’t lying again? How are we supposed to believe that a man making $25 million a year when he tells us that he didn’t even know what he was taking? Or whom he got it from?
It didn’t hit me right away how this would impact my life as an aspiring sports writer until I heard that there were still 103 players on that same list who tested positive. I almost broke down. Now in what is known as the “steroid era” in baseball, I began to wonder if my favorites would inevitably be on that list. It hurt.
Griffey? Ripken? Is it worse that for them it would make sense? How do you play that many games straight? How could Griffey continue to keep coming back after season after season of running into the center field walls as if he was a new crash-test dummy prototype?
Or is it worse that I still believe in these guys enough that they would never do something like that. I may always end up forgiving them.
Maybe I give too many chances. But after Rodriguez, Clemens, Bonds and the list of 104, “innocent until proven guilty” seems not to matter anymore. No matter what the achievement or milestone, everything is tainted.
And what about the list? Is it fair to fans, to players, to the media, that this list may not surface? Do we want it to? Do players deserve their fate? And the players who did play by the rules; shouldn’t they have their names cleared? Don’t we, as fans, deserve to know who to root for?
Now, at 21, I finally realize why we have superheroes like Batman and Superman. They protect us. They don’t cross over to evil. They don’t let us down when we need them the most, and though they are perfect in every way, they never make us feel bad about ourselves for idolizing them.
Baseball great Roy Campanella once said “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.” Maybe some of these guys forgot that.
I talked to my Dad about the whole thing a couple days ago online. I told him if Griffey were on the list, I would change professions. I still think that’s true.