Say It Ain’t So, Yasmani?







The above was an internal conversation most Padres fans had with themselves last week. And, I don’t blame them. Most people have/had no idea who Yasmani Grandal is. Honestly, he doesn’t even sound like a real person, like a name generated in MLB The Show.

Just thinking about some stuff. (Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE)

But, I knew who Yasmani Grandal was. And, now I know who Yasmani Grandal is. He’s a cheat, a liar, and a shining example that Baseball’s worst fears are coming true.

I’m 32 years old and have lived and breathed Baseball for a majority of that time. It’s not a fate I chose, it honestly felt like it chose me, and I’ve felt like the game was always a part of my life. After the strike of 1994 I was pretty sure I would never come back. I know that’s a bold statement for a 14-year old to make, but I felt betrayed. I felt like the players and owners had no interest in what I cared about, which was them. My love for what they did was not being reciprocated, and at 14 the world pretty much revolves around you, so I left the game in favor of Bad Religion and Spitfire wheels. Four years later, like most Americans I got pulled back in, but for us San Diegans that yank was two-fold: The Padres reaching the World Series and of course the McGwire/Sosa homerun race. The first reason proved futile, as anyone who came back to the Padres in ’98 were immediately devastated to find themselves rooting for whatever it was we had in 1999.

The second thing that once again peaked America’s interest in Baseball, was far more spectacular and for a short time completely untouchable. Two massive men, with arms like small oak trees began hitting homeruns like no one had seen in decades. Not just the amount, but also the distance, the hang time, the pure power with which these round trippers were leaving the yard became astounding. It not only seemed like Baseball was back, it seemed like Americana revisited. An old Norman Rockwell painting come to life in a bygone era when we didn’t focus our attention on grown men bashing their heads together and for a short time, we all felt smarter. Kids came back in droves, rooting for their favorite. The question wasn’t, “What’s your favorite team?” it was, “Sosa or McGwire?” But, after the rockets been fired and the streamers grounded, something seemed off.

A couple seasons later, when it was obvious that things were indeed a bit skewed, millions once again felt betrayed. To adults it didn’t seem all that strange, athletes cheating had always been a part of sport. Although, this seemed a bit deeper and a bit more…dastardly, we all took it in stride. It sucked, but as more and more facts and numbers became public it looked like this was pretty much how the game had been played for quite some time. Bud Selig wasn’t shocked, in fact no one within the game felt betrayed, only saddened that it was now public knowledge. When they began talking about asterisks and omitting people from the Hall of Fame because of steroid use I personally became enraged. Why were they being vilified? Because they did what most of the sport was doing? They needed to stay relevant? Going by this awful double standard, then every record before 1947 should have an asterisk next to it, and every record from the Dead Ball Era as well. (For more on this I heavily encourage you to read a brilliant article my friend Joe Quadres wrote in 2006 on an old sports blog. WARNING: It contains adult language, but is possibly the best thing I’ve ever read on steroids.)

When it was pretty apparent that no actual adult cared that players were using steroids, because cheating is something we all do in some way or another, Selig and the Major Leagues shifted their argument. It was no longer about the purity of the sport, because that’s something Selig let die long before 1998.

It became about the kids.

We had to protect our children! We couldn’t let American children know their heroes were full of crap, and we definitely couldn’t let them know how they were full of crap! What if kids found out that in most cases steroids did give you a competitive edge? They could up your contract, or your signing bonus for that matter, by millions of dollars! Not to mention the side effects from using steroids could be disastrous, and kids could die! The narrative shifted so quickly it seemed like Major League Baseball had given up on current players as a lost cause, and looked on to prevention in the Minor Leagues, college and even high school. Suddenly, Baseball cared about its fans, because suddenly Baseball could be directly responsible for literally ruining the lives of children. I agreed with this then, but unfortunately Baseball’s reach was not far enough and now looks to have been too little too late.

In the last year we’ve seen three players suspended 50-games for steroid violations: Melky Cabrera (28 yrs old), Bartolo Colon (39 yrs old), and now Yasmani Grandal, who just turned 24. Colon can easily be written off in the same vein as a Jason Grimsley or Manny Ramirez; the aging player looking for a lift as their skills begin to diminish. But, Cabrera and Grandal are right in the wheelhouse when Baseball really f’ed up. During the historic and media frenzied ’98 homerun show, Grandal was only 10 yrs old and Cabrera was 14 – the same age I was when I was so impressionable I walked away from fandom for feeling so directly affected by something that had nothing to do with me. Just think what these two felt when seeing two giant and powerful ballplayers smashing the ball out of the yard, and being portrayed more heroic than Rocky in Rocky IV. Young, impressionable kids being told by Baseball and the country that THESE men are heroes. THESE men are the best, the elite and examples of all that is good about the game.

Of course years later, that was all torn down and found to be inaccurate, but it was too late. A whole generation of kids saw what they were told to see. By the time Baseball got its shit together it meant nothing to these kids. I mean no matter what anybody tells me I’ll always love Labyrinth, even though watching it now I can literally see how awful it is. The film resonates with me because of when I saw it, who I saw it with and what that time and age meant to me. It’s bigger than the film, just like the pageantry of ’98 was always going to be much bigger than McGwire, Sosa or Bud Selig’s ineptness.

So, Baseball’s worst fears in 1998 have begun to rear their ugly head. Despite their delayed campaigns and attempts to right their wrongs, it’s all for not. The kids of that time learned what they learned because Baseball let them. We all let them.

Do I think we should completely forgive Yasmani Grandal? No. He cheated and in turn could not only end his bright career, but could force us back to rooting for Nick Hundley. What’s worse is that now we don’t know if the hue of Grandal’s career rested on actual talent.

With one decision he impacted the hopes of literally thousands. But, why would he think anything of it? Especially since he saw first hand that same decision impact the admiration of millions. Was he wrong? Hell yes. Was it his fault? Yes. Should we blame him? No. We should blame ourselves. As much as we don’t want it to be this way, it is this way. We all made it this way. If we really want to do away with steroids, then any player who uses them should be banned from Baseball for life. That may be a bold stance, and a little too much for some people, but why? At this point in any players life they have all the information they need, and they make the decision, knowing the outcome. An outcome we pay millions to support, while Baseball pretends to spend millions to defeat. If we really want to dig ourselves out of the hole, we need to start by getting our hands dirty. It may sound like I’m hopping blame from person to fan and then back again, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. Although it was Grandal’s choice, and he should be punished for making a stupid one, it’s our fault for only telling him it was a stupid choice, and not a wrong one. 50 games, 100 games, it doesn’t matter, because it is a game and you’re still allowing them to play. Rip the band-aid off and expose the wound, or keep it on forever. But, don’t let it dangle half way, clinging to the skin and threatening everyone that it could end up floating in their pool. Yasmani Grandal will be a poster boy for all that is wrong with the game, which is unfair since as a boy he was told to buy the posters of those who represented all that was right with it.

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