Friday, February 13, 2009

Give Me The Drunks Over The Injectors Anyday

I'm old enough to remember the good old days of baseball, when the players were drunk instead of on steroids.

It wasn't all that long ago when the vice of choice was over-indulging with the bottle. Maybe the last drunk of note was pitcher Dickie Noles, who was a Tiger briefly in 1987. In fact, Noles was actually traded for himself. The Tigers got him from the Cubs for a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Noles himself.

But I digress. All this talk of Alex Rodriguez, the latest high-profile player to be outed as having steroided himself, continues to place the spotlight on HGH and BALCO and other nefarious acronyms.

Long gone are the days when the foreign substances players ingested had names like Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, and Cutty Sark. Oh, and Budweiser and Stroh's and Pabst.

Drinking and baseball used to be married, in a way that caused not outrage and disgust, but instead induced winks and smirks. The stories have been told again and again of Babe Ruth's hangovers and Grover Cleveland Alexander's alcohol-caused fogs on the mound. Of Ryne Duren's tipsy behavior as he delivered 90+ mph fastballs that no one knew were headed -- least of all Duren himself.

Noles, who I mentioned earlier, was famous for beer consumption. He was purported to once have consumed 24 beers in a single night. The 1968 Tigers, those World Champions, had many players who liked their beverages.

Alcohol, though, caused tragedy when "Big Ed" Delahanty -- a feared hitter around the turn of the 20th century -- imbibed too much and in a drunken rage, was kicked off a train in upstate New York. Big Ed fell to his death (he may have jumped off a bridge) near Niagara Falls.

"Big Ed" Delahanty -- a great hitter and an even greater drinker

I don't like to think about this steroids thing. I know that smacks of the ostrich mentality of sticking my head in the sand, but I don't care. I would rather concentrate on what goes on, ON the field, than off it. But with steroids, it's hard to ignore because they appear to have so much influence over actual performance. I doubt alcohol ever helped pad anyone's stats, or caused hat sizes to increase or turned David Banners into Incredible Hulks.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not tolerating alcohol abuse, not at all. But if that was the worst thing you had to worry about when it came to what your baseball heroes did during their down time, then that's not so bad, is it? And the game's records would still have sanctity.

You can't go back, I know.


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