In August of 2001, I had the privilege of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field in Chicago. After brutalizing that tune, I was asked to do an inning of color commentary on the game between the Cubs and the Cards for Fox Sports.
I agreed and sat down with announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver who, to be honest, didn’t look all that thrilled with my presence. Would you?
Anyway, I opened up with an observation that Cardinals’ slugger Mark McGwire could not even pinch hit in the game because his body had broken down. Then I asked if Buck and McCarver thought his condition might have something to do with all the “supplements” McGwire had admitted taking to bulk up his body.
There was an awkward silence and finally Buck said, “It was such a nice afternoon, what happened?”
We all laughed, but the question was never answered, primarily because Major League Baseball didn’t want it to be answered. However, the dirty secret in pro sports is now out in the open: steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are all over the place.
I know this because a friend of mine, the former NFL lineman Lyle Alzado, told me years ago that steroid use was common among pro football players. He told me that a few months before he died from cancer. He strongly believed the steroids contributed to the cancer.
He described his routine of injecting himself with what he called “juice” very vividly. I will never forget it.
Pumped up athletes are now common, and few believe you can change your entire physical makeup in the weightroom. Young people know that big stars make millions and drugs are how some of them got there. Many spectators don’t care, but they should.
Sports are really an art form, and the skill players bring to their games can be beautiful to watch. But bodies built by chemicals are not beautiful, they are perverse. The professional sports leagues in America should be ashamed for looking the other way all these years.
How many American kids are ruining their bodies by using the latest supplemental junk? It’s impossible to say, but think millions. Lyle Alzado never imagined he would die in his early 40’s. But he did, and he was one tough guy.
Growing up, I was thrilled by the exploits of Willie Mays, Frank Gifford, Walt Frazier and Rod Gilbert. These guys were magical. They were blessed with tremendous skills and brought joy to the millions of fans who watched them compete with discipline and flair. There was something clean about sports back then. That is no longer the case.
Now we have superfreaks, driven by money and tacitly encouraged by leagues which put dollars above all. Want to ruin your body? Fine. As long as you can hit that baseball or sack that quarterback.
You can still take me out to the ballgame, but I know it will never be the same. The juice is no longer in cups, it is running through veins. The “supplement” pushers have changed everything but, as Alzado and McGwire found out, there is always a price to pay.
To quote an old ad line: “It’s not nice to fool around with Mother Nature.”