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MLB Likes its Rickety Pedestals

June 23, 2010

A nation turns its lonely eyes to him, apparently.

I caught a couple of innings of Strasmus Day 4 today on the MLB Network, and was, as always when watching the channel, inundated with commercials for the All-Star Game. Which are a lot like the commercials for the playoffs last year. The script of which is essentially “MLB — Now 100% Drug-Free.”

Well, kind of. You can watch it here. It’s a classic MLB spot, tugging at the heartstrings of father-son bonds and recalling the rich tapestry of the sport’s history. Grainy footage, smiling ballplayers, the whole nine. It’s no mystery as to who the commercial highlights, of course. The script runs:

“Your grandfather never misses the chance to tell you he saw Joe DiMaggio play the field. Or maybe it’s your dad, telling you he saw Hank Aaron go deep. Now’s your chance to tell your kids that you saw (dramatic pause) Albert Pujols (dramatic pause) do everything.”

Well, if that’s not putting a man on an extraordinarily rickety pedestal, I have no idea what is.

If we’ve learned anything from the last, um, ninety years of baseball scandals, it’s that it’s really, really, really dangerous to put all your eggs in any professional athlete’s basket.

DiMaggio and Aaron are about as squeaky clean symbols of choir-boy sportsmanship as the game can throw at us. DiMaggio was a stand-in for American spirit and integrity while he was alive – so much that Paul Simon held him up immortally in “Mrs. Robinson.” (Richard Ben Cramer’s recent book detailing his personal failings notwithstanding.) Hank Aaron is our true home run king, full of the many stories of hate mail he received and never talked about. They can’t throw Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays in there because of the links to alcohol and amphetamines; they can’t throw, say, any of the so-called once-in-a-lifetime players from the ‘90s and early ‘00s in there because, well, duh.

So of course, let’s put Pujols into a commercial. Pujols who eschews alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, and married his wife when she was a single mom with a daughter who has Down syndrome. Pujols, who started the Family Foundation, a religious organization dedicated to bettering the lives of children with Down’s Syndrome, as well as impoverished children in the Dominican Republic.

Well, this seems like a safe bet, sure. But jeez. If you were Major League Baseball, wouldn’t you want to take a different tack and say that the game is bigger than the sum of its parts? That even if Barry Bonds had never existed, there would have been great, unbelievable moments? That even if it turns out that shortstop choirboys Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken were draining souls out of little kittens for their own longevity, the game would still be the national pastime? That’s what I’d be doing. I’d be saying it’s about the moments, not the people. Because if it’s not Pujols, you better believe that some athlete – a guy who’s your kid’s idol by virtue of throwing a ball very fast, or hitting it very far with a piece of wood – is going to be connected to some awful scandal. And some people will say that baseball will never recover, and the rest of us will say “yeah, ok.”

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From → Criminals, History

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