Who's Worse, the Black Sox or the Steroid Gang?
Remember Chick Gandil? Probably not unless you know your baseball history. Gandil was first baseman for the Chicago White Sox when the team gained immortality in 1919 as the Black Sox. Gandil and shortstop Swede Risberg, a pair of rough customers in an era of tough guys, were ringleaders in the plot to throw the World Series.
Gandil later said, "I did it for the wife and kids." Ring Lardner, the leading sportswriter of the day, wrote that those were the most disgusting words he ever heard.
I doubt that Lardner would feel that way this week. Why? Because the Black Sox admitted what they had done. All but Buck Weaver, the team's third baseman. He wasn't part of the conspiracy, did his best to win every game, but was barred from baseball for life because he knew what was going on and didn't pass the information along to team officials.
The men now accused of using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are uttering plaintiff cries of innocence. All but a couple who had the guts to admit it. Ring Lardner, I think, would find the whimpering far more reprehensible than Gandil's statement.
How do players of today differ from those of 1919? Back then they all came up the hard way. They were farm boys accustomed to hard work and city boys who grew up playing stickball on the streets and using their fists to settle disputes. An entire major league team didn't earn as much money in a season as many single bench warmers make today. They took long road trips by train and slept in hotels without air conditioning. They played in the afternoon sun while wearing heavy cricket cloth uniforms that were washed once a week if they were lucky. During the off season they worked on the farms or in the steel mills or sold cars if they wanted to eat. There were more differences, many more, and none favored the players of yesteryear.
Today's players, at least the majority of them, grew up being told they were something special from the time they played their first Little League game at the age of nine or ten. Most of them have never done an honest day's work in their lives. From February to October they are pampered and spoiled and catered to and when something doesn't go their way they always find someone else to blame. Few among them could be called admirable characters.
In my opinion, for what it's worth, they are far worse than the Black Sox. Today's fans are a different breed, too, so many will back the Steroid Gang. When Joe DiMaggio held out for a $25,000 yearly salary, fans booed him. Like I said, they were a different breed.
Back when I was covering the Cincinnati Reds during the 1970s I spent a couple of hours talking with a man who played in that 1919 World Series. Edd Roush was the center fielder for the Reds and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. A rugged man with a vocabulary that would melt frozen butter, Roush never minced a word in his entire life. He had great stories to tell about that Series and about the men he played with and against. Of the Black Sox he said, "Hell, we wouldda beat 'em anyway."
One of these days I'll write more about this farmer from Oakland City, Indiana. And about Bench and Rose and the Big Red Machine. And about watching Ruth and Gehrig and Foxx and the Gas House Gang when I was just a kid. Talk about a different breed of men.
I remember one year when I covered 180 baseball games. Reds, Indianapolis Indians, high school - if there was a game somewhere around I was there.
This year I didn't see a single game. Not in person, not on TV. I still love the game, though. It's the greatest ever devised. I just don't care much for the people who play it today and sometimes I don't much care for the way they play it. In 1930 or 1976 it just wasn't the same at all.