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Small Balls Fine, No Balls Different June 19, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Sports.
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 Steroids in sports.

The words are scary and have boards and managers and, gasp, even our nation’s government shaking in their boots. They are wiretapping journeyman pitchers so they can nonchalantly walk past Barry Bonds’ locker screaming, “Hey, anybody see any steroids around here?” They’re freaking out in buckets when the 5 foot 4 shortstop is launching baseballs out off the stadium faster than Taco Bell makes its’ way through the human digestive system. And what’s worse, the records are falling. Eighty five year old stats that were perpetrated by long dead guys are being replaced by this generations super freaks.  The president is even taking time from his busy “railing at godless America” schedule and is making it his personal stance to stop the rampant abuse of drugs in Major League Baseball. Inner city’s fine, but Jason Giambi, put that syringe down.

Every decade has it’s sports scandals. The Black Sox took cash to pitch and hit like the softball team from the local VFW. Players campaigned for free agency by dropping the hot button words of slave and indentured servants. Wife swapping. And more drug abuse –  coke and speed -the kind that inflated your ego, not your batting average. But I can live with steroids and gangsters and free love every nine innings. No, I miss gambling.

Pete rose was the master at it. His boss even hired a shady man straight from a Chandler novel to follow him around, asking things like “Hey, anybody see any bets around here?” he fell for it though. He even, gasp, horror, placed bets on his own team to win. How dare you sully the sanctity of the sport by being confident enough in your own team to put your money where your proverbial mouth is? The scandal grew when we found out NBA players like Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan have heavy gambling habits. They’re competitors with huge egos, not inflated by anything other than the fact that they felt no need to compete in things unless they could make some money off of them. But sometime in the late nineties, the gambling stories died down. Did that mean the gambling stopped?

ESPN, the so-called Mecca and measuring stick of all thing sports, around this time decided to start showing every poker tournament it could find, thanks to the ingenious “hole-card camera” technology it invented. Now, what was just an excuse to watch badly dressed fat men actually became entertaining. I know what he’s got and I can learn how he does it. Suddenly, poker was on every hour on the hour. The players became celebrities and every fool with ten grand would flock to the tournaments, not to win, but to rub elbows with the glitterati. Though Eurotrash in silk shirts and balding 50 year old ex-car salesman aren’t glittering all that bright. But hey, fifteen minutes of TV screen time is still that, screen time.

The allegations stopped when ESPN realized, poker is gambling. Sure, it may seem like just another harmless sport, but it is still the idea of plunking down money betting that you will be dealt two better cards than the guy next to you. You have no idea just what you’ll get. It’s a veritable, well, gamble. So when allegations of game fixing and bets on outcome stories flash across the wire, they aren’t as quick to admonish them, since showing people gamble has become ESPN’s multi-million dollar cash cow.

I love poker myself.  But I have sense enough in myself to know that at any time, I could flop three fours and my opponent could get a bigger trips. It’s gambling and it’s the rush that feeds me. But, my home games never put me out more than fifty or sixty bucks. That’s the difference between the good scotch or the can of PBR the next time I go out drinking.

It’s because of my fascination with gambling that I miss it so in sports. I know it’s still there, but they just don’t talk about it anymore. Players salaries being what they are, why not make them earn it? The Saudi Arabian government offers cars and  homes to its’ players who scored goals in the World Cup. Italian leagues are fixing games left and right to make people money. But, if I find out the shortstop was jacking out balls and going 4 for 4 because he bet his house, I’m cool with that. Because nothing motivates a man like failure. An athlete needs to be less a finely tuned machine and more a liberally oiled cog. And nothing lubes you up like the cold hard fact of Big Louie standing in the stands, polishing an ice pick and smiling at you with a toothpick in his mouth.

So, if you’re angry with steroids, there’s a fix. It could be because a juiced player doesn’t play for your team or because your team is so underpaid that the only illegal substance it can afford is a dimebag b behind the 7-11. Whatever your angry, just march down to the ESPN programming office and have them pick up the new fall show, “The Happy Good Time Androstendione Hour.”

Pete Rose could host. 4 to 1, he’s not doing anything right now.

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