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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

The Needle and the Damage Done

by Jim Laffer

Emotionally drained is an odd way to feel on the first day of a new week. Even more so since I've had 4 days off in the last 7 and another day of classroom in my new job, but none of that matters. This last weekend and early week have been an incredible roller coaster ride for Sox fans and fans of MLB in general. While the Sox continue to do well, leading the division by 15 games as I type and having just completed a sweep of the once great Baltimore Orioles, the rest of the news has not been as pleasent.

Last week ended with the news that Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas - he of the bulging biceps, focused glare, fast hands, incredible eye and amazing stats is out for at least the rest of the year. Frank pretty much ruled the game in the brief time he was healthy this season, cracking 12 homers in a mere 105 at bats and helping the Sox build an almost insurmountable lead with 2 full months to go. Anyone who doesn't believe Frank is a major loss really has no idea how much he influences the way other teams pitch to the guys batting before and after him. Still, the fact is that Frank may never play baseball again and that truly is a sad thing. This latest setback - a new break in his already fragile recently repaired ankle does not bode well for his future career and make it even less likely he will be back with the Sox next season. So with sadness, many Sox fans are preparing to watch the big man shuffle off into the sunset hoping the negative hype media bores have dished his way through the years won't damage his reputation too much and end up costing him the first ballot induction into the Hall of Fame his numbers truly warrant.

Frank is in some pretty elite company as one of only 15 players to have amassed 400+ homers and won a batting championship. All of the eligible ones who have done that are in the Hall and the two others who aren't there are still active and shoe-ins to make it (Bonds and Sheffield). Frank also holds the record for most seasons with a .300 BA, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R, 100 BB at nine, including eight in a row to start his career. For those of us who have had the pleasure of watching his entire career, there is none better. Sure there are guys with better stats (though not many). Frank also did it steroid free in an era when juicing was rampant and skinny players regularly turned to needles to remake themselves into bulked up freaks to go after big money and big celebrity. Giambi stole Frank's 3rd MVP at the tip of a needle - costing Frank millions of dollars - and other guys like ShamME* and McGwire got free passes from the press until the past few years when suddenly it was all the rage to go after them thanks to guys like Jose Canseco (no hero himself for using) who finally blew the cover off the pumped up baseball and popped those inflated egotistical HOF wannabes' bubble. Then of course came the Senate hearing and one by one they lied or played dumb or just refused to talk about the past. Well most of them did. One other player stood tall beside Frank, saying he never took steroids (at least knowingly). Rafael Palmeiro - he who recently joined the 3000 hit club. He of the 550+ HR. He the sure fire first ballot HOF player. Way to go Raffy... well sort of...

Early this week, Raffy was banned 10 days for violating the substance abuse policy - specifically the part of it that prohibits steroid use. Finally MLB had caught their big fish, not that any of them truly wanted to admit it and though they denied his appeal, they all but let him off the hook by vouchsafing Raffy's excuse once again that he never "knowingly" took steroids. Yeah, sure, Raffy we believe you... sure we do. All of the fans of MLB have sucker tattooed on our foreheads too, just because we really want to believe the game is clean. We want to believe the records are real. We want to believe the only things that have changed are the dimensions of the fields, the size of the gloves, the conditioning regimens of the players and of course the ball is a little tighter too. Not anymore. Anyone who doesn't believe MLB has a major problem is clearly delusional. The stars aren't stars or at least they aren't better than the stars of the past, just more able to get their hands on illegal substances that make them look that way.

I have had it up to here (*pointing at the cowlick that resides on my head*) with all these egotistical over inflated, multi-millionaire punks who think they are bigger and better than the game we love. Over and done I am with these losers who think they can grab greatness from a jar and erase names like Aaron, Ruth, Cobb and Williams from the record books so casually as if none of it mattered before they came along, then smile for the camera, blow some kisses, tap their collective hearts and go have sex with their teammates' wives. Ah Frank, we're going to miss you in all your too blunt, too real, too big mouthed for your own good glory. You deserve better than they have given you and deserve to be remembered for what you were - one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. I'd give a lot of what I own to see you standing in the batter's box come October, bat waving, head down, eyes glaring, daring the pitcher to throw you something you can actually get a piece of, fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch until that fat, arm-tired "fast” ball comes across the plate thigh high on the inner half, those massive arms uncoiling in raw muscular perfection, driving the head of the bat into the baseball - as it seems to be screaming "WHAT DID I DO TO YOU?!??!??!" - before being launched deep into the night.

But that is what dreams are for and some of them are harder on the brain than others. Not all of them can come true and I fear mine is just a pipe dream. They took your legacy, Frank. They took it, ground it up and injected it because they all wanted to be like you. But there will only be one Frank Thomas and Rafael Palmeiro isn't him.

Like Neil Young said...

I hit the city and
I lost my band
I watched the needle
take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

Whether you ever play baseball again or not, thanks for the memories, Frank.

*Voodoo Stands*

*Voodoo Claps*

Jim Laffer is a lifelong Chicago sports nut living on the North side of Chicago. He was raised in Hyde Park and graduated from UIC in December, 2000. He grew up in a house famous for developing insights into economic phenomenon. Thus he doesn't believe it when the White Sox start crying poor.

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