A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis...
Cecil Speaks Out
NEW YORK, NY.—The last legitimate home run hitter rewinds his mind and pauses on the year 1990, when he did something nobody in the American League had done since 1961.
Break the 50 home run barrier.
“When I hit 51 in 1990,” Cecil Fielder says, “it was the first time anybody had broken 50 in, what, almost 30 years? Now you look at it and it’s being done every year. There’s some really funny stuff going on.”
Funny, but nobody is laughing.
As Major League Baseball is set to begin its season in earnest, dark clouds of steroid suspicion threaten to rain on its 162-game parade. An estimated five percent of players tested positive for steroids last year and a federal investigation involving a Northern California laboratory charged with distributing designer steroids might reach a trial this summer, implicating some of the game’s most glamorous players.
“Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs.
Mark McGwire hitting 70. That’s outrageous. For a guy who hit 50, I can tell you that that’s a task in itself. For a person to hit 70 home runs in a single season, that is outrageous.”
Fielder is quick to note that Bonds is “probably the greatest pure hitter” he’s ever seen and that “I’m not saying I know anybody in the game who is taking steroids, because I don’t.”
Still, he sees what the game has evolved into, and he shakes his head.
“Everything is speculation. But I look back on some of the guys that hit 50 home runs after I did and say, ‘Damn. OK. He did it?’ I don’t know.”
What he does know is that all the publicity the steroid scandal is generating is both troubling and damaging.
“Baseball is getting some serious bad black eyes because of things that are going on. As an ex-player looking in, I think we need to get things back to normal because baseball is a pure game and, in my opinion, the greatest game in the world. We’ve had some things in the past to deal with, scandals and stuff, but we’ve never had something like this. This is a major, major problem. I mean, you’ve got the federal government investigating a drug scandal. We don’t need that.”
That is what is foremost in his mind — the game. After that, Fielder worries about players and their health. He mentions former football star Lyle Alzado, who, at 43, died in 1992 of brain cancer after admitting to more than two decades of steroid use.
“Nobody really understands the ramifications of doing this,” Fielder says. “Nobody really has any knowledge of what their chances are of living past their 60th birthday. It’s all great and fine and dandy to make all the money and do the things you do in your career. But what will you do when you have to go to the doctor, like Lyle Alzado did, and find out you’re dying? Is it worth it? I don’t think so.”
Even if players do get away with steroid use health-wise, and whatever records or sparkling statistics they accomplish don’t become null and ‘roid, Fielder believes there’s an even larger penance that waits. And it resides in a person’s conscience.
“Those guys, man, are going to have to look at themselves in the mirror one day and say, I wasn’t true to the game. I think that’s the worst penalty any athlete can inflict on themselves, that, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, and they’ve had an incredible career, did wonderful things in the game, they’re going to have to look in a mirror and deal with what they see for the rest of their lives. To me, that’s the worst punishment.”
It’s a punishment he knows he’ll never have to face.
“I’m very comfortable with myself,” Fielder says of his 13-year career that saw him hammer 319 home runs. “I know that what I did was all natural. I don’t have to answer those types of questions from anybody. I don’t have to look in the mirror and know that I cheated.”
“You know, I feel bad we’re even talking about this. Baseball has got to clean the kettle. They’re sitting in their own kettle right now and the kettle they’re sitting in is black and they’ve got to clean the dirt out of it, and they’re going to have to do it themselves. I know they don’t want to have anybody else in there. Both sides have to work to get the game back to where it needs to be.”