A few days ago, I watched the DVD of “Mr. 3000,” the Bernie Mac comedy about a baseball player who achieves the milestone of 3,000 hits and then assumes he’ll make it into the Hall Of Fame. Unfortunately, he was such an arrogant jerk and treated the sportswriters — the ones who vote on the inductees — so horribly, that he doesn’t even come close. Then, nine years after his retirement, someone discovers that there had been a math error, and he’d only hit safely 2,997 times. So he tries to get himself back into shape and rejoin his team to get his number back up to that magical plateau, but finds that there’s a lot of lingering hostility towards him.
That’s right about where Rafael Palmiero finds himself today. Not that he was an arrogant jerk, but his induction into Cooperstown was never a lock. Sure, he’d played for 18 consistent years, but never at the level of a superstar. It wasn’t until he recently got his 3,000th hit, to go along with his 500+ home runs, that anyone mentioned his name and the Hall of Fame in the same sentence.
Now that’s in serious doubt, because he’s been caught with some illicit chemicals in his system. Whether he took the steroids intentionally or not isn’t the question. It’s why he’d allow himself to be in this situation, considering all the scrutiny the issue has gotten this year, and especially after his finger-wagging denial at a congressional hearing in March that he has “never used steroids, period” (he might as well have pounded the table and added, “and I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky!”) He lives close enough to DC to know that you don’t say things like that unless you’re absolutely, one hundred percent clean, or the sound bite is going to come back to haunt you.
A listener to my KMOX show today pointed out that we, the American consumers, are awfully hypocritical on this drugs-in-entertainment issue (yes, sports, even at the major league level, are entertainment, just like movies, music, and TV). One obvious example is Jerry Garcia. If he had been a teetotaler, no one would have ever heard of the Grateful Dead.
A while back, I talked to Ray Manzarek of The Doors about the use of drugs in the music business. He claimed that drugs were responsible for helping create some of the greatest rock and roll ever. I asked for proof, and he offered up The Beatles. His argument was that the Fab Four were making some decent pop music in their first couple of years, but they didn’t become legendary and groundbreaking until Bob Dylan introduced them to marijuana. That’s when they changed and expanded their musical horizons, creating such classics as “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s.”
Now, no one would ever argue that The Beatles don’t deserve to be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, even if their achievements were chemically-enhanced. So why the big deal about athletes doing the same thing?
Don’t forget that Palmiero already has a history of being associated with a performance-enhancing drug — as a national spokesman for Viagra.