Seeing the news that Roger Clemens has been indicted for lying to Congress about steroid use reminded me of something I experienced recently at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. I was in Cooperstown to see Andre Dawson enshrined because I’ve been a big fan of his since I was a kid. He always showed that hard work was the way to get ahead.
I have to confess I’ve been bitter ever since revelations of rampant steroid use in baseball first came to light. Baseball has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember because my dad is an ardent Cubs’ fan. I always loved the history of the game and its simplicity. Other sports are entertaining and fun, but there has always been something different about baseball. It really is a significant part of America. Through little league and high school ball no one confused me with a future major leaguer. But what joy. It became a part of my fiber, even if I was never going to be paid to play it.
I fell away for a bit after the strike of 1994, but the great Sosa/McGwire homerun race brought me back. Tears streamed down my cheek as I sat on my bed glued to the television the night McGwire broke the record (and almost forgot to touch first base). It was powerful. And it was a sham.
Fast forward to 2010. We now know McGwire used. Sammy too (though we only know for sure in our hearts). And I have to confess to being bitter over the whole charade. I haven’t purchased a ticket to a game in years, though I’ve gone to a few when friends couldn’t use theirs and gave them to me for free. Baseball was practically dead to me, robbed of its innocence in a way I thought was unrecoverable. Leave it to Andre Dawson and Hank Aaron to begin to heal me.
In his induction speech, Dawson emphasized that it was the individuals who made the mistakes. The game is still pure. Simple eloquence that he probably never knew would speak to so many so deeply. The pain felt after the sports’ biggest stars cheated caused me to write off baseball itself. But the game is just fine. It’s players that make choices to cheat in order to be immortalized among the greats that are the problem.
Hank Aaron spoke to me without saying a word. At the beginning of the induction ceremony each Hall of Famer in attendance is introduced and the crowd cheers for them. There are varying levels of applause. Sorry, Bob Gibson and Goose Gossage, but Willie Mays’ cheers will make yours seem forced. When Hank Aaron’s name was announced something happened that I have never seen before, even in years of covering sports.
Not only did the crowd cheer and applaud, but they gave Hank a standing ovation. The only one of the day. And, more striking, the members of the media stood and applauded too. Ordinarily it is bad form for a reporter to acknowledge being a fan in any way. No Cheering in the Pressbox is Jerome Holtzman’s famous book. But even the media had to recognize Hank in the same way and for the same reason that the ordinary baseball lovers were. That standing ovation was an acknowledgment that Hank Aaron is the true homerun king. Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez can’t take that away.
And Roger Clemens’ indictment doesn’t drive me further away from the game I’ve loved for so many years. It actually makes it seem like things are on the right track.