This article is even more timely now than when it was written in 2004.
Here’s the full article:
Sports of The Times; Maris Did Not Need Performance Enhanced
By SELENA ROBERTS
Published: March 7, 2004
WAS it all ‘Bulk Fiction’? That delirious moment when Mark McGwire wrapped his 19-inch biceps around No. 62 and almost hopscotched to first base on his joy ride to history in 1998.
That sepia-toned montage when the ripplin’ redhead scooped up his son at home plate and climbed the seat railing to embrace the Maris family.
Remember? There was the Busch Stadium hug from Cubbie Sammy Sosa, and emotion in McGwire’s indigo eyes, and baseball’s giddy revival, and the chicken-soup warmth of a record broken nobly.
‘You look back at it all now and say, ‘Was that real?’ ‘ Dick Savageau pondered in a telephone conversation on Friday. He was a classmate of Roger Maris’s, his lifelong card-game foil and a pallbearer at his funeral on an ice-covered day in 1985.
He was also a humble adviser to Fargo’s folk hero on the days Maris strolled the streets of the town he loved. When Maris would walk past the storefronts on the main drag and a familiar face approached in the distance, he would lean into Savageau’s ear and ask for a name so as not to appear haughty to his, well, homeys.
‘That’s Tom,’ Savageau would whisper.
‘Hi, Tom, how are you?’ Maris would chime as they passed on the sidewalk.
Score a save for friendly defense. If Savageau could have saved Maris’s home run record, he would have done that, too. But even his close pal knew that, one day, Maris’s journey to No. 61 through the tempest of 1961 would be eclipsed by another player.
Unloved by the Mickey Mantle faithful and diminished by Babe Ruth’s unabashed protectors, Maris swung beyond the Babe’s hallowed single-season mark as a loner in Yankee pinstripes.
Ushered along by Bud Selig’s blind ambitions and a players union in denial, McGwire topped Maris with a steroid precursor called andro, and Bonds topped McGwire with wonder zinc from a company called Balco.
Apparently, there is no loneliness at the top anymore, not for those who would be the King of Swat. Trailing many of the league’s big lugs, there are performance-enhancing gurus conjuring seaweed potions and mineral rubs for the likes of Yankee Jason Giambi and Met Mike Piazza. All shakes and supplements are as clean as city tap water, of course.
These mystery sidekicks also dispense deep-tissue massages to the egos of their meal tickets. They prop up their wealthy client’s insecurities, and whisper fortune-cookie inspiration into their ears when the pressure feels like a piano on their puffy chests.
In 1961, Maris’s hair fell out without anyone picking up the pieces.
‘Most of the time, when Roger had problems with all the pressure, he didn’t have anybody,’ Savageau said. ‘There was no one to talk it out with.’
Now, there is group therapy for the single star. With his personal trainer, Bob Alejo, stopped at the Yankees’ clubhouse door, it’s no wonder Giambi is searching for a blankie.
He is grumpy about Major League Baseball’s newly imposed posse-restraining order in an effort to keep the clubhouse congestion (i.e., suspicion) down. The directive was issued last month after a federal grand jury indicted Bonds’s personal trainer, Greg Anderson, on charges of illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s impossible to say if the urine of Bonds or McGwire was murky from 1998 to 2001. There was no drug testing. So, Donald Fehr & Company made it impossible to measure the integrity of their efforts.
The union’s lead counsel, Gene Orza, once asked why players were the only Americans who had to prove their innocence on a regular basis. Violation of privacy, he declared. Apparently, Orza had never been through a metal detector at an airport.
It is baseball’s unconditional love of the long ball that has cast suspicion over all displays of power.
The figurative asterisk that accompanied Maris’s home run record for nearly three decades — before Fay Vincent mercifully stepped in to remove it — seems ludicrous now.
‘That’s all anyone talked about for the longest time,’ Bruce Furness, mayor of Fargo, N.D., said by phone. ‘Maris had the asterisks.’
The ruckus over the validity of a record achieved over 154 games or 162 had nothing to do with the purity of Maris’s roundhouse swing. And at 6 feet, 197 pounds, his physique never raised an eyebrow, either.
‘He never worked out,’ Savageau said. ‘Players do a lot more lifting now, and are so much bigger. You don’t want to take anything away from them, particularly a good guy like Mark McGwire, but you wonder if some of them are getting an extra edge. With everything that you read and see, I sometimes think, ‘My goodness, did anyone really break Roger’s record?’ ‘
Not irrefutably, not yet. For this reason alone — and add his back-to-back M.V.P. titles in 1960 and ’61 as a bonus — Maris should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Given the current rage over ‘roids, what Maris accomplished is even more amazing in 2004 than it was three decades ago. As uplifting and tear-jerking as it might be, Cooperstown is no place for feel-good fiction.
Photo: Roger Maris’s home run record, set in 1961, stood until 1998. (Photo by Associated Press)
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