Love the Sport, Not the Sports Star

Here’s a tip for anyone who enjoys professional sports. Don’t read anything about professional sports.

Don’t read the sports section of the newspapers or the sports magazines. Don’t read the books. For that matter, don’t watch any TV commentary or analysis, or any documentary films about professional sports.

This has been my radically reduced diet of late, and I must say it’s working out splendidly. See, the trouble is, I’m a baseball fan. Specifically, a San Francisco Giants baseball fan. Like many other fans of America’s Game, I’ve been maintaining a deliberately shuttered and blinded point of view for about, oh, six or seven years now. I would read the sports pages, and listen to the conjecture about steroids running rampant over the verdant pastures of our collective infield grass. But I didn’t really process any of it. Didn’t want to. Even when Jose Canseco’s tell-all book came out, and even when players and administrators were brought before US Congress last March, I skimmed the essentials and flipped to the box scores.

Then came the latest allegations against Barry Bonds by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, excerpted in Sports Illustrated from the upcoming book Game of Shadows, and replayed across all media vectors for several days. Perhaps “allegations” isn’t the right word, but I suppose it’s the polite one. I have a frankly awesome capacity for self-delusion, but to ignore this latest information, I would have to be a deaf and blind patch of algae with serious developmental delays.

For those who (wisely) have not been paying attention, the report details with damning precision the extent of Bonds’ steroid use for the past several years. Among Bonds’ pharmaceutical regimen: insulin, human growth hormone, a steroid called “Mexican beans”, a woman’s infertility medicine, and a drug used for promoting muscle density in cattle. Allow me to retype: a drug used for promoting muscle density in cattle.

Something about this latest salvo broke my will to stay in fuzzy denial about the steroids issue. All the data I’d absorbed and repressed came flooding back: the ridiculously inflated statistics of the last few years, the broken records and the bullshit pageantry of the celebrated 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. All those players with the Mr. Hyde torsos and parade-float heads.

McGwire infamously detonated his legacy in the congressional hearings (“I’m not here to talk about the past”) and Sosa did his part by feigning confusion and a sudden, inspired unfamiliarity with the English language. Rafael Palmiero stated clearly and for the record that he has never done steroids. Ever. Then promptly tested positive for steroids that summer. And now we have the Bonds debacle. You know what? They’re all a bunch of idiots. Screw ’em.

And so I have decided to confront this fundamental dilemma. I love professional baseball, but I pretty much hate professional baseball players. As a matter of fact, I love a lot of professional sports, and mostly despise the people who play them. Also the owners, managers, agents, and more or less everyone else affiliated with the business of pro sports.

It’s a familiar problem, actually. I deeply love a lot of music by people I’d probably deeply dislike. Bob Dylan comes to mind, as does 16th century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. (Anybody employing those kinds of contrapuntal derivations has got to be a dick.) Same with books. I like to read Hunter Thompson books, but I’m pretty sure that, had we ever hung out, one of us would have shot the other within an hour.

I love the art: not the artist. What I’m saying is, let’s take this ethic to the sports world. Screw this terminally broken cult of personality — it’ll just break your heart. Love the double-play, not the shortstop. Love the baseline jumper, not the point guard. Love the cycling, not the chucklehead who broke up with Sheryl Crow.

The nice thing about this approach is that it’s liberated me to be a complete and total free-agent sports fan. Since I’ve stopped caring about the players and the franchises, I can simply enjoy the game itself. I was in Florida last week, checking out some of the baseball spring training facilities, and in the course of 72 hours I found myself cheering for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Detroit Tigers and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. (Allow me again to retype: the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I made a point of not looking at the program, not even bothering to read the player names on the jerseys. It was fabulous!

I’m going to really roll with this thing. I’ve cancelled my Sports Illustrated subscription, and every morning I remove the sports section from the morning paper and feed it to the dog next door. That dog eats anything. I am officially and permanently removing from my life all aspects of sports except for the games themselves.

I’ve even taken to turning down the volume entirely when watching games on TV, because I don’t want any stupid commentary reminding me that Alfonso Soriano just signed a $10 million contract and refuses to play outfield. It’s working out pretty well. I just settle into the couch, crank up the Palestrina and… OOH, that guy makes me mad! You call that a retrograde inversion, jackass? Get outta here, ya bum!

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