For fans of baseball, it has been an incredibly sad decade. Yesterday's news that Manny Ramirez seems to have made a bigger impact than when we learned/admitted that other players had cheated the game, whether it was Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds. Perhaps it is because Manny got caught for doing it now and the suddenness of the news, as opposed to growing suspicions about the others. Perhaps it is because Manny was more likable, particularly compared to A-Rod, Clemens or Bonds. My favorite sports blogger had a great column on this yesterday, depicting a future conversation with his son, trying to explain how the 2004 Red Sox miracle might not be totally soiled or spoiled. And failing miserably. As a Mets fan, I guess I should be thrilled that my team probably did not cheat in 1986 much, before the real peak of the steroids era, but instead only fell far short of what it should have been due to epic abuse of performance-ruining drugs. Should I be happier about Doc and Straw ending their careers with coke, rather than prolonging them via HGH, steroids and the like?
Baseball purists will argue that PEDs matter more here than in other sports because of the stats that we hold dear, that we can compare baseball players across the years. The drugs of today, they argue, undermine these comparisons. But, as a social scientist, other comparisons come to mind: Babe Ruth didn't compete against all of the best players, since Blacks were not allowed to play; greenies played a big role in the 1950's and beyond; etc. The Sports Guy has ruined Field of Dreams for me forever, as he noted that only white ghosts seemed to play in Kevin Costner's cornfield.
So, where does all of this leave us? This morning, I had two conversations, one with my daughter and one with my wife, about progress and inertia. We didn't put it like that, but, while going to school this morning, my daughter wondered why ethnic hatred still exists (after my mentioning the classic Trek episode), and I mentioned not just Obama as President, but also the other ethnic divides that no longer have much resonance today. When was the last riot between Italian- and Irish-Americans? And then, I come home, and my wife reacts to a story about the Obama Administration with frustration that progress on gay rights still seems to be blocked by Christian right. I considered the state by state victories of late, the need for Obama to focus on the veritable cornucopia of policy disasters he inherited, and the lessons from Clinton's early days, and suggested that there is progress.
I guess I should take my family's frustrations to heart--that there is progress, but there will always be challenges that have not yet been met and new ones that arise. In baseball, we do have significant questions about the recent past, but the game, with the influx of players from around the world, is more competitive than ever before, and the displays of talent are amazing. I don't follow basketball that much, but whenever I switch the channel to a game, particularly one with Lebron James, I quickly become amazed at the athleticism.
In terms of ethnic conflict, my daughter is correct that we should be beyond race by now, as depicted by Star Trek, when Kirk and Spock wonder about how people can be judged by the color of their kin. But we can appreciate how far we have come. A lot of people didn't think Obama had a chance, that there were too many racists out there, and so on. And while it took an unpopular war and a disasterous economic situation to clear the way, Obama was able to gain votes from all ethnic groups in significant numbers. He may not be the messiah, but his election symbolizes the progress made in my lifetime, from the assassination of Martin Luther King to a black President.
Funny, I didn't intend to write about race when thinking about baseball, but the two have been interwined as integral parts of American life.