Baseball, Apple Pie and Steroids

Commentator Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's Only a Game, offers his poetic thoughts on Major League Baseball's opening day and the steroids controversy that lingers over the sport.

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The Major League Baseball season opens today.

Ordinarily, it would be a time for optimism and high spirits. But Bill Littlefield imagines that talk of home run records about to be broken by a guy who allegedly cheated will distract everybody.


Ty Cobb sat in a corner, his smile a crooked line, and said, I scuffed the ball, my friend. I worked to steal a sign. And file my spikes? Of course I did. I'd file them these days too. You want to win like I did, pal, you do what you can do.

Old Walter Johnson shook his head. He wouldn't go along with cheating or with blurring that thin line 'tween right and wrong. The game deserves respect, he said, from all of us who play. Without the rules it's chaos. That's an easy thing to say, roared Cobb, when you can throw the ball past any human hitter.

Gee, here he was, 120, still Ty Cobb was bitter.

But Walter wouldn't argue; though he wondered, as he sat among the ghosts of baseball's past, what Cobb was getting at. The players now are different, friend, and it's a different game, so said Lou Gherig, quietly. All right, but all the same, the cheating's cheating, Johnson said, and law is law, as well. And Casey Stengel cocked his head and muttered, Hard to tell. When fired, which means I had to leave, there wasn't any doubt. But if my guys had juiced I might be still employed, not out of baseball. Which without me, what's his name, who hits so good, is certainly a man who's sure his bats are made of wood could be when summer beats a team to dust. It's hot, he's tired, and if the steroids help, I'd rather them than being fired.

And Mickey Mantle, sleeping, stirred. A faint smile crossed his face. He mumbled in his slumber, Yeah, I'll go along with Case. The laughs that followed faded out when Babe Ruth wandered in and sat among the other legends, grinning Babe Ruth's grin. Say, Gig, said Sy Young quietly, if steroids had been there, and Ruth held up his hand and said, There's no one left to care.

But I can tell you, boys, and then I've nothing else to add. On opening day we're talking drugs, not baseball. And that's sad.

HANSEN: Bill Littlefield is a sports commentator for member station WBUR in Boston, and is the host of NPR's ONLY A GAME. His most recent novel is The Circus in the Woods.

(Soundbite of song)

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