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Darrell Huckaby - Bidding farewell to a childhood love

You can't put the genie back in the bottle. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. And you can't ever remove the doubt from a baseball player's reputation once they are linked to steroids in a Congressional report.

Welcome to the Steroid Era. Someone has finally mentioned the elephant in the room. Merry Christmas, y'all.

There has never been a bigger baseball fan than me as a kid. I devoured the statistics on the backs of baseball cards. I religiously watched the Baseball Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese every Saturday. ("He had a notion, but he 'helt' back.") I read every baseball book I could find in the school library. When I had read them all, I started over and read them all again. (My favorite was the "Lou Gehrig Story". It talked about his German mother feeding him pickled eels.)

I knew the starting lineup of every team in both leagues. I poured over the newspaper box scores of every game played every morning. I couldn't wait for Sundays because that's when they published the individual statistics for the whole league and Mondays were special, too, because there were no "late games" on Sundays so that was the one day when the league standings were up to date.

I think my love affair with the game began to fade about the same time they brought in the designated hitter. I was a conservative guy - all about tradition and resistant to change. I still am. If it ain't broke, I don't believe in trying to fix it - and sometimes, even if it is broke, I don't worry about trying to fix it either. Just ask my lovely wife Lisa about the running toilet in the guest bathroom.

Shortly after the DH rule came into play, salaries began to run amok and players started jumping around from team to team like Elizabeth Taylor jumps from husband to husband, and I could barely recognize the game I had once loved.

But still, I stayed. I stayed with the game. I couldn't name the starting lineups anymore and wasn't quite so anxious to peer over the box scores or the weekly stats, but I still followed the game on television and attended as many in person as my time and my budget allowed.

And this, understand, was during the days that the Braves were absolutely awful. Attendance was often so sparse at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium that they introduced the fans to the players instead of the other way around.

Anybody out there remember Rico Carty for Jim Panther? That was the baseball I was paying to see.

And then the Braves got good and going to a game was suddenly the "in" thing to do in Atlanta and tickets became as scarce as hen's teeth, so my buddies and I chipped in for a few years and shared season tickets - chipped in a lot more money than we could afford, I might add - but it was baseball. I was still carrying a torch for my lost love, the baseball of my childhood. We all do crazy things when we are in love.

And then the millionaires went on strike, leaving me holding the bag on almost a dozen sets of tickets for games down the stretch, and I swore that even if the players came back, I wouldn't. But the allure was too great. They did and I did - for a while.

Despite the fact that you never knew from one year to the next which spoiled overpaid stars would be with which franchise; even though the games began to drag on for hours and hours, even though the post-season games never ended until after midnight, I stayed with the game, much in the same way a battered and abused wife might stay with an undeserving husband. Call it love or call it blind loyalty or pure stupidity - for whatever reason, I stayed with baseball.

And then something changed. People like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds ballooned up to cartoonesque size and starting putting up numbers that Ruth and Mantle and Aaron and Mays never even approached. The traditions and history of the game were being drug through the mud and everyone with half a brain began to realize that the players were dirty and the records were tainted and the players' union and the people who are making money hand over fist dared "The Game" to do anything about it. So "The Game" buried its head in the sand and talked about improved conditioning methods and good nutrition and refused to address the travesty that the modern players were making of the game I had loved so dearly.

And now we have the Mitchell Report, naming names and revealing what we had all suspected all along. And the representative of the players' union claims it is all a pack of lies and "The Game" will continue to do nothing and the beat will go on and on and on - and the tainted records will stand.

But the beat will go on without me. I'm done with baseball until the record book is purged and the cheaters are ousted, and if I watch another inning before it is and they are - then may I be pickled like one of Lou Gehrig's mama's eels.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.