Sunday, February 17, 2008

Clemens, Bonds and the Meta-Story

(And that title is not a typo)

This morning I spent 7 or 8 minutes of my life trying to get back to sleep after waking (this is normal on a weekend morning). When it became apparent that I would not succeed, I took to my other Sunday morning post-waking ritual: Watching the Sports Reporters on ESPN (get your head out of the gutter, constant reader).

Now, the show is often a vacuum chamber of intellect, especially since Jason Whitlock and Ralph Wiley no longer do the show (Whitlock because of a personal beef with Mike Lupica, Wiley because, well, he's dead) with more emphasis placed on bombast and snarky one-liners than on actually discussing what's going on in the sports universe. I watch that show already five times a week-it's called PTI, and it's a better product. But the show is humorous in its bombast, and how it's gone from discussing how good the Celtics can be or the Santana trade's effects on the National League and into the realm of the Serious Sports Story.

Now anyone who watches ESPN knows that damn near every week they've gotta have the Serious Sports Story, about the gay fencer with one leg, the other lost in a tragic accident due to his violent past that he's since renounced. And it's particularly bad during the "My Wish" month, where we get them every day and a dose of Rascal Flatts to boot. Gag me with a maggot, please. Give me the score, some stats and a highlight. I'll even take the Philly Phanatic's latest shenannigans over that crap.

This weeks' serious sports story revolved around the real Big Sports Story of the week, which is the Roger Clemens Steroids Hearing. Now, getting past how silly it is for Congress to be having a hearing on this while ignoring the expiration of the Protect America Act (more on that later), and the strange accusations of Republicans 'protecting' Clemens with their questions, the Sports Reporters focused on the Meta Story as it relates to the whole HGH thing: Race.

In the media, a Meta Story is the overarching theme that they'll use to pound things in your head. For instance, during the days of the Duke 'Rape' Case, the Meta Story was: Rich White Athletes Victimize Poor Minority. When the facts didn't turn out to support the Meta Story, the media forgot their meta story, and frankly, forgot the Duke case. Of course, Google never forgets: If you don't believe me, Google "Reid Seigleman" and see how many articles come up regarding his GPA.

This Meta Story is: The Double Standard, in which a minority is accused of something and assumed guilty (Barry Bonds) and a white person is accused of the same thing (Roger Clemens) and treated innocently. Here, of course, is the problem: Most of us, I think, do assume Roger Clemens has been cheating. I certainly do-what benefit does Andy Pettite have for lying? They of course point out how people assumed the Bonds Late-Career Renaissance was artificially enhanced, yet never questioned how Clemens could do the same and never questioned.

It's a simple answer: It's baseball. Comparing what Bonds and Clemens do is like comparing Hemmingway to Picasso. Yes, both are artists, but they work in completely different mediums. Hemmingway ended up eating the business end of a shotgun; Picasso died at a dinner party while giving a toast to himself. Bonds is a position player, expected to play every day, and expected to put more of a strain on his body. Clemens is a starting pitcher, expected to play maybe twice a week and spend the rest of his time golfing and filing his nails. Heck, he didn't even travel with the Astros during his stint with them if he wasn't pitching during the road trip.

Also, it's a pretty rare thing for a player to be the best in the game deep into his 30s and in his 40s. Hank Aaron didn't hit more than 20 homers his last three years, retiring at age 42. In 1934, Babe Ruth, at 39 years old, hit 22 homers; he retired partway through the '35 season. Mark McGwire played his final game in 2001 at the age of 38; he hit .187, though with 29 homers. Barry Bonds hit 28 homers last year, with an average of .276. He'll turn 44 midseason.

Meanwhile, it's not unusual for a pitcher to be effective late in his career. Uh, Tommy John had a freaking elbow transplant (not really, but you get it) and won 164 games after the surgery, retiring at age 46. Phil Niekro pitched until he was 48; though a knuckleballer, he won his 300th game throwing just one knuckler. Steve Carlton played until he was 44. Nolan Ryan pitched for 27 years, until he was 46 (and still kicked Robin Ventura's butt in a fight). Warren Spahn won 23 games at 42 years old. So it wasn't out of the question for a guy to play at a high level into his 40s as a pitcher. Heck, Greg Maddux is still effective, and nobody will ever accuse him of juicing. It wasn't without precedent for Clemens to have the success he's had post-40 in the same way Bonds did. He is 45 years old.

Still, they'll use the Race Meta Story ad nauseum until the next sports controversy can be labeled with a Meta Story. And I'll increasingly go to Fox for my sports coverage. They actually cover the games. Strange they should do that instead of the gay lacross players, huh?

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