The Norman Transcript

July 31, 2013

Future penalties only way to preserve game’s past


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The day Pete Hughes was introduced as Oklahoma’s new baseball coach, I found myself having a conversation with Larry Cochell for the first time in too long.

I asked him if he watched baseball on television. He said he did. I told him that I wish I still could, but it seems that I can’t. It’s a character flaw, I’m pretty sure.

Blame the genius of Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue or the instantaneous age we live in, but I’m convinced baseball couldn’t be invented today with much fanfare or success. 

Indeed, it’s likely a tribute to past dominance and the mythology built around it that continues to prop the game up in second or third place on America’s athletic landscape.

Also, it is a nod to that history that demands Major League Baseball continue to do everything it possibly can to rid itself of performance enhancing drugs and performance enhancing drug users.

Even if it means suspending Alex Rodriguez for the rest of his natural born life. Even if it means robbing Texas of Nelson Cruz for the rest of the season. Even if it means stealing Bartolo Colon from the wonderful story that’s again the Oakland Athletics or robbing the Tigers of shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who’s hitting .308 and slugging .460.

It’s a funny thing when so many commentators explain baseball’s tragedy of the moment, that in the middle of a fine season, with terrific races and great stories, that the game is nonetheless suffering “another black eye.”

Wrong.

Every day is a good day to clean up the game. Every day is a good day to underline baseball’s connection to its glorious past, something the game should never be ashamed to wrap itself in.

Football may have the violence most Americans crave and basketball may claim the most athleticism, but neither has one fifth of baseball’s history and that history has to be protected and the best way to do that is to be forever vigilant in the moment.

If they’re not playing the game of Hank Aaron and Johnny Bench, of Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, of Willie Stargell and Ricky Henderson, of Thurman Munson and Lou Brock, of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays … if they’re not doing that, the game’s connection to its past is lost.

Already it’s been strained by the expanding noggin and immortal on-base and slugging percentages of Barry Bonds, bullied by the unnaturally strong forearms of Mark McGwire and assaulted by the age-defying effectiveness and sociopathic zeal of Roger Clemens.

Yet, because baseball has gotten it right — and the players union has gotten out of the way — for the last several years, it has recovered in a way that may not be as exciting as the great home run chase of 1998, but that is far more real.

Now, at least, we can give Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown the benefit of the doubt and Chris Davis’ 38 home runs the appropriate amount of wonder.

When I spoke to Cochell and saluted him for being better to the game than I’ve been since the days I covered his team, I didn’t only tell him that I can’t make myself watch it any more.

I also told him it’s still my favorite sport to read about, talk about and listen to on the radio. Because I don’t have to watch it to honor it.

And none of that would be true if baseball had given up on itself and given in to the freak show it had become when McGwire, Clemens and Bonds appeared first to be cheating time when what they were really doing was cheating the game.

So when they throw A-Rod out forever or for the rest of this season and maybe all of the next one, and when they deliver justice to Cruz, Colon and Peralta, it will not be a sad day for the game.

Their misdeeds may be mourned. Not their departures.

The game, its past and present, demands justice.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

cfhorning@normantranscript.com