by the Night Writer
Baseball may be America’s pastime, but America’s game is politics, and it’s played for keeps.
It was all very exciting when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a tight race to break Babe Ruth’s single-season homerun record, and when Barry Bonds sledge-hammered his way toward Hank Aaron’s career record. Many people cheered as the dramatic numbers climbed higher and if anyone scratched his head and wondered outloud at the unusual displays of power and hat-size they were repeatedly assured that the game was clean and these were merely exceptional athletes plying their trade at the highest levels. After all, we were told repeatedly that Sosa, McGwire, Bonds and other sluggers of the era had never tested positive for steroids. Of course, that spotless record was likely the result that they had never been effectively tested for steroids. In fact, for a number of years Performance Enhancing Drugs weren’t even specifically against the rules in a game that has long winked at “gamesmanship”
Similarly, cheating in politics is as American as apple pie. Recently we’ve seen a series of extremely close political elections with enough curious counts and results that you’d of had to have botox injections to keep from raising an eyebrow. And as the Minnesota legislature debates a voter-ID bill requiring a state-authorized photo ID in order to vote, we again have those who claim the process is clean and that large-scale fraud has never been proven. As was the case with baseball, though, there has barely been an effort made to try to prevent it.
“Well, that’s just baseball,” you might say. “That doesn’t mean politics is like that.” Of course not. Baseball players might be willing to cheat in order to gain fame, glory and riches, but politicians are above such tawdry motivations and designs. Baseball players cheat because a slugger can pull down $20 million a year or more, but that amount is bush league when you consider the amount of money that can be gained in furthering an agenda, feathering a nest and favoring your friends. Influence is much more valuable than an MVP.
If you doubt that, look at the amount of money generated just to gain the influence in the first place. The recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election – a race that would normally be reported in box-score agate type – generated some $3.6 million in outside political contributions. In baseball, $3.6 million barely gets you an average outfielder, or a good lefty set-up man. In politics, a good lefty set-up men may arguably be an even more valuable commodity to some.
Testing for steroids, and verifying voters, won’t eliminate the desire to gain an advantage, but it does make it easier for those scoring at home to have faith in the results. Major League Baseball dragged its feet on drug-testing because neither the owners or the players really wanted to look too closely at the situation. The owners liked the high ratings and interest that homerun races generated and the players liked the rewards that came with age and gravity-defying feats. It was the fans’ distaste and sense of injustice – and potential alienation – that forced action. Major League Politics drags its feet because neither party wants to change a system they’ve used to their advantage in the past.
Just as in baseball, though, the blatant hypocrisy and questionable results risk alienating the “fans”. The steroid era has cast doubt on the records and statistics of a generation of players, calling into question the validity of many records and tainting even those who played clean and diminishes the game overall. The same thing is happening with our election process. It is up to us fans to keep the pressure on if we want to see integrity in America’s pastime and America’s game.