Russell Wangersky: How the Internet is like an elephant
Remember that thing you did when you were young? The thing with the statue in the middle of the fountain, the photographs and all that foaming dish washing detergent?
You do not have to be an unshakably committed fan of Major League Baseball to be familiar with the name of Roger Maris.
Maris was an outfielder with the New York Yankees from 1960 to 1966, and in 1961 he accomplished the quite spectacular and radical feat of hitting 61 home runs, thus surpassing the near-sacrosanct record of 60 home runs by Babe Ruth 34 years previous.
Since that time, three other players have hit more than 61 home runs in a season —Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998), Mark McGwire (70, also in 1998) and Barry Bonds (73 in 2001). However, because all three of those players are widely believed to have reached their respective plateaus with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, a sizable number of fans and media personnel hold that Maris' record of 61 homers is still the most valid and rightful one.
What is not very much discussed is that Maris' achievement may also be tarnished, if only mildly. In late September 1961, with Maris having hit 58 homers to that point, the Yankees travelled to Baltimore for a three-game series with the Orioles. Sometime before the first game of that set, Milt Pappas, the scheduled starting pitcher for the Orioles that night, telephoned Maris at his hotel and told him that he would throw only fastballs to the Yankees slugger that night. During the ensuing game, Maris hit his 59th home run of the season (whether the information he had received from Pappas helped significantly or not is still open to debate). Without a 59th homer there could not, of course, have been 61 that season.
Only a few baseball historians make a profound issue out of this matter, but I do wish that Pappas had acted with a little more professionalism in that time of momentous events.
Another happening that I would like to note, and which also pertains to morality in baseball, is that several years ago, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees pretended to be hit by a pitch from a Tampa Bay hurler that actually struck Jeter's bat. Jeter was awarded first base, but later admitted that he faked being hit in the hand in order to get on base. I therefore lost substantial respect for Jeter and also for Joe Maddon, then manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, who said that he would encourage his players to employ such deceitful tactics as well.
I think that baseball broadcasters and writers should speak out against such illicit behaviour and advocate that players adhere to the rules of the game at all times. Cheating in Major League Baseball sends an immoral message to all aspiring players and it might well tend to support the view that fraud outside of baseball is also acceptable as long as one does not get caught.
Personally, unless my next meal somehow depended on a victory in a particular game, I would rather lose that game while playing honestly than win it through unscrupulous means. Socially and philosophically, there is simply no substitute for honesty and honour.
I often wish the current commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, would issue policy guidelines and standards that would provide for significant punishment for the sort of actions that Derek Jeter engaged in (and he is certainly not alone here), including well-publicized reprimands and fines. The more genuine and high-principled the quality of baseball, the better for all connected to the game.
Lloyd Bonnell, Corner Brook