If there is one thing that Atlanta Braves baseball has become synonymous with over the years, it’s honesty.
The Braves play the game the right way. They don’t cut corners, they don’t look for an unfair advantage over their opponent(s), they don’t shell out inordinate amounts of money to ensure that their entire starting nine are first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.
The New York Yankees‘ five World Series rings since 1996 smack of a certain bullishness – for years the team could simply outspend anyone for any player, making their lineup something that, more often than not, just couldn’t be competed with. The flip side of the coin is that they’ve grossly overpaid (and overreached) for some players (perhaps Alex Rodriguez comes to mind, or even Javier Vasquez).
And of course since the early 1990s baseball has been plagued by the steroid scandal. We all should have known something was up when suddenly Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were consistently blasting 60+ home runs. We should have begun to question the integrity of the game when Barry Bonds went from a wiry 35 home runs a year hitter to a barrel-chested, ox-like slugger who hit an astounding 317 home runs after the age of 35 (that’s 72 more than the next closest player, who happens to be the undisputed home run king, Hank Aaron; not surprisingly number three on the list is another “rumored” steroid user – Rafael Palmeiro).
But the Braves cannot be accused of having ever overspent for players, of having “bought” a division title, playoff spot, or World Championship. And they have not been caught up in the PED hoopla in the least – the only Braves player that comes to mind who has been associated with steroid use was former third baseman Ken Caminiti, and it is unknown whether or not he used steroids during his tenure with the Braves. I tend to doubt it. Bobby Cox was as old-fashioned as they come; he never would have allowed that in his clubhouse.
The point is, the Braves do things the right way – with hard work and integrity. Chipper Jones didn’t build a Hall-of-Fame career with hypodermic needles and diabolical chemical concoctions that turned him into some freak show of a hitter. No, Chipper’s hitting prowess took off when Willie Stargell told him to learn to swing a heavier bat. Chipper listened, and it took him a while, but once he learned to handle the weight the ball started flying out of the ballpark – and it never stopped.
Michael Farris Smith wrote an interesting article for the New York Times last Saturday entitled “What if Novelists Took Steroids?” And it’s an intriguing thing to think about. What if there were pills, chemicals, injections, etc. that would make the rest of us infinitely better at our jobs? Would we do it? Would we take the plunge? Or would we remain steadfast, clinging to our decency and honesty? I tend to think most of us wouldn’t, but I’d like to think we would.
Baseball has a lot of cleaning up to do. They’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. It’s teams like the Braves that should give us hope, though. The game can be and still is played the right way. It’s the unfortunate few who risk it all to gain any sort of edge taint the game for the rest of us.