“Sadly, they aren’t playing hockey. Football, it’s not in season, and we’re not on steroids, so right now these guys are the best athletes in the world,” Charles “now back when I was playing” Barkley said in typically outspoken fashion during the “NBA All-Star Break on TNT.” In case there was any confusion, the best athletes in the world comment was not directed towards the sport that displays such physical specimens as David Wells.
Yes, as Barkley duly noted, baseball is almost back. As for the bickering, gossiping and drama queen antics of the sport’s players, that’s already in full swing.
Not that it ever stopped, mind you, but with football over and hockey — eh, nevermind (c’mon, in the last few years has anyone really paid attention to the NHL?) — the drama queens of the diamond can resume front-page status in sports sections everywhere.
Entering this year’s spring training, there are already some burning questions I have. Jose Canseco: Legit know-it-all with a big mouth or just a guy who figured out the cleverest new way to make rent? Jason Giambi: Was it the parasite, the tumor or the not taking steroids thing that caused the talent-less debacle known as last season? A-Rod: At what point do the effects of his lobotomy wear off and he calls a press conference only to reenact the hotel room scene from “Boondock Saints” on everyone there? Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling: Will Schilling be ready to go in as the ace on opening day and if he does, will Big Unit even be on the mound due to a conveniently scheduled appointment for a root canal? Speaking of pitchers, David Wells: I have one question, but it’s not for you- — why, Theo, why?
When it comes to general baseball questions, none are more pressing or lucrative than the mystery that revolves around Canseco’s new book, “Juiced.” In it, Canseco would have us believe that as many as 80 percent of MLB players are using illegal performance enhancers. People have made a big deal about the specific players Canseco goes after in his book — Mark McGwire, Ivan Rodriguez and, of course, Giambi to name a few — but in asserting that most of his fellow athletes were shooting up, Canseco is going after the entire sport. To the average fan, that’s saying any guy who looks like he’s spent a couple of extra hours in the gym is most likely using steroids. Oh, and the skinny relief pitcher? Well don’t rule him out just yet either.
For me, the Catch-22 with Canseco’s book is that while I’d like to read it, I don’t really want to fork the money over to the guy who may or may not be lying, and coincidentally owes the Massachusetts Department of Revenue $32,783 in income taxes. Not only that, but if Canseco is right with his injection stories, that makes him a pretty big rat, having used steroids himself. As an athlete, I’m a huge advocate of stringent drug testing procedures and consequences. As a fan, I’m outraged to think Barry Bonds is only 11 home runs away from sidling up with the Great Bambino. But for Canseco to make money off of his steroid coming out party in a tell-all book that spreads the guilt around — that’s not something that I want to support either.
As for the rest of the spring training hearsay coming out of Florida, most of it has to do with — shock me, shock me, shock me — the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. First off, there is Giambi, who is so overly concerned with being liked and keeping his contract with the Yankees that when he apologizes, people aren’t sure if it’s for steroids or for those deodorant commercials. Even if the lack of steroids weren’t going to be an issue, the sensitive Giambi is not going to be able to withstand the jeering fans that will be waiting for him every time he steps up to bat. I’ll be surprised if he hits over 30 home runs this year, assuming Joe Torre doesn’t yank him from the lineup midway through the season.
Then there’s A-Rod, whose classy veneer could win over the most embittered of haters, had he not tried to snatch Bronson Arroyo’s purse in Game 7 — wait, that online photo was a doctored image. Not that Trot Nixon’s rebuttal to A-Rod’s ridiculous assertion that he was working out while other baseball players were taking their kids to school was really warranted in the first place. Why A-Rod would hold himself up as a shining example by contrasting himself against devoted fathers in the league is beyond me, and is a ridiculous enough comment that Nixon didn’t need to respond. Although I guess just as the Patriots get the best of their challengers by saying only the nicest things about their opponents, the Red Sox have taken advantage of their scrappy brawling techniques to stir up trouble whenever they can. Regardless, you can’t tell me A-Rod wasn’t the least bit bothered when Jeter refused to comment on Nixon’s attack, after rushing to the side of the controversial Giambi.
To make a subtle transition, speaking of things that suck (the Yankees, A-Rod etc.), David Wells and his gut don’t need to be in pinstripes to do just that. Some Sox fans regard the portly Wells’ unwarranted attacks on Joe Torre and A-Rod as a sign that he really is a part of the Red Sox now, having squashed any ties he had with the Yankees. I don’t see it that way. What Wells is doing is essentially making the Red Sox his rebound relationship. After being dumped by the Yankees, he was sent to the Padres and then tried to reconcile with the Bronx Bombers when he called Brian Cashman earlier this year. Of course, we all know how that attempt to get back into the Boss’ good graces went, as Wells is now with the Red Sox. Since joining the Sox down in Fort Myers, Wells has had nothing but bad things to say about the Yankees, yet he can’t for the life of him stop talking about them. Like a bitter ex, Wells just can’t accept the fact that the Yankees didn’t want him.
So, before even the first pitch has been thrown, this baseball season is already looking as though it could top last season’s excitement and drama. The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry certainly already has some great plot lines: Randy versus Curt, Wells versus Torre, A-Rod versus Trot, and David Wells and the Yankees. All in all, I’d say this season should be interesting to watch, but given that I’m a huge baseball — not to mention Red Sox — fan, I’d rather gouge out my eyes, thank you.