“They just don’t care anymore,” SNY’s Gary Cohen said, with a distinct note of disappointment. “Most of them seem to care not much at all about performance-enhancing drugs.”
The camera panned the crowd, catching Dodgers fans wearing novelty caps with Manny dreads attached or waving signs welcoming their hero back from exile. Oh, there was a smattering of boos, but nothing remarkable. They weren’t even as loud as those showered on Mets starter Mike Pelfrey when he let the Dodgers jump out to a 5-0 lead in the fourth.
Cohen kept talking about it, as if the fans’ behavior was incomprehensible. Manny had been caught with a drug in his system that’s used to restore normal testosterone production after using steroids. He was slammed with a 50-game suspension that cost him more than $8 million. Though he has never tested positive for steroids, all the commentators are calling him a cheater who may never get in the Hall of Fame. He’s sullied the game. He’s lower than a snake’s belly in a canyon.
Why aren’t the fans booing?
“Either they put it behind them or they didn’t care to start with,” Cohen finally decided with an almost audible shrug.
We in the opinion business like to talk about how players don’t have a clue about just about everything — money, fame, contracts, respect, the real world. But on this subject, the guys in the electronic pulpits are the ones who are clueless, and have been for a long time.
We saw it when Manny first started getting in shape in the minor leagues. Fans packed ballparks and cheered his every scratch and expectoration. When he played his first major league game in San Diego, the fans seemed happy to have him back.
And now in New York, where the fans are supposed to be tough, there’s a smattering of boos and a smattering of cheers and a whole lot of camera flashes. Baseball as usual. The biggest reaction Manny got was when he got thrown out of the game for tossing equipment after getting called out on a ball that was half a foot off the plate.
Cohen took some solace in that, suggesting that home plate umpire John Hirschbeck was stretching the strike zone on Manny as punishment for doing drugs. It’s possible. But even if it’s true, it wouldn’t prove anything other than that Hirschbeck is petty.
The real issue is the fans, who have been packing ballparks at record rates ever since chemically-enhanced players started hitting balls out of the park more than a decade ago. Scandal after scandal was going to destroy the game. Scandal after scandal has produced little more than a collective yawn.
Oh, sure, you won’t have any trouble finding people on message boards and bar stools yawping about how these guys should be hung by their thumbs in Times Square and beaten like piñatas with the Naked Cowboy’s guitar. To them, the guys who cheated with steroids are the only people who ever broke the rules of the game. The guys who stole signs, used corked bats, gobbled down amphetamines like they were M&Ms, threw cut balls, spitballs, scuff balls, emery balls and Vaseline balls weren’t cheating at all. They were just trying to win.
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