City Desk

Cheap Seats Daily: A Wistful Look Back at the Dead Balls Era™?

Another milestone along the Road to Ripken™ has been passed: Mark McGwire says he did steroids. The news knocked the "Clay Aiken Says He's Gay!" story off the front page of the We Know Already Gazette.

After spending years in a shamed self-exile, McGwire's confession came as he sniveled through an interview with Bob Costas for the MLB Network.

While saying he wished he'd never done drugs and wished he'd never played baseball during the steroids era Dead Balls Era™, McGwire also blamed baseball's lack of steroids testing for his decade-long (he says) drug-taking. He said he didn't take a lot of 'roids, and they didn't help his hitting. The forbidden fruit of the day just kept him healthy, McGwire said.

He looked sad and lost. I liked McGwire better when he said under oath that he didn't want to talk about steroids.

Baseball fans in DC sure benefited from his drug taking. During batting practice at RFK Stadium in 1999, before a Cardinals/Expos exhibition game, McGwire hit two balls to the roof. Nobody there, present company included, had ever seen anything like it, because nothing like it had ever taken place. Within a matter of seconds, McGwire had reduced every tape measure shot ever hit there — even the ones Frank Howard hit which are commemorated with painted seats in the upper deck — seem like Texas Leaguers.

I'd never witnessed any athletic feat of any sort quite like McGwire's.

But, as McGwire pointed out yesterday, the drugs didn't put those balls on the roof. Other than, you know, keeping McGwire healthy enough to do it.

I remember watching McGwire after his feats of inhuman strength. He went back behind the batting cage and canoodled with his batting practice guest that day, Goldberg, the pro wrestling champion and a guy who always looked like a fellow synthetic testosterone connoisseur. Wrestlers don't have to cry or apologize for shooting things into their bodies. In any case, McGwire dwarfed Goldberg.

(AFTER THE JUMP: What's this mean for Mike Lupica? Even Thomas Boswell got caught up in the Dead Balls Era™? Another forced Google hit for Dead Balls Era™? Whatever happened to A.J. English? Not Alex English?)

The McGwire interview just continues the pain for Mike Lupica. He's the author of "Summer of '98," a book about the McGwire/Sosa home run duel and how that season enhanced Lupica's relationship with his three sons. From the Publishers Weekly blurb on Lupica's work:

In his columns, Lupica often deals with strikes, the atrocious behavior of some overpaid athletes and all the tawdriness of sports business and hype. But, in this book, he gives himself completely over to the beauty of baseball as both a game and as an agent of bonding between fathers and children.

Amazon has 37 copies available "from $0.01."

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell, who blasted Jose Canseco for suspected steroid use as far back as the late-1980s, threw away his suspicions and picked up pom poms a decade later.

Here's a bit of his story that ran on Sept. 14, 1998:

Yesterday, baseball produced a moment that, for me, may have been more enjoyable than McGwire's 62nd homer: Sosa hit his 61st and 62nd. Hit them in a crucial game in the wild-card race won, 11-10, by the Cubs in the 10th inning. He hit them at Wrigley Field as the wonderful ivy-addled loonies went nuts. Both balls were crushed at least 480 feet.

Yesterday, Sosa matched McGwire in every way. When Sosa came to the plate with one out, nobody on base and the Cubs trailing by two runs in the ninth, my 11-year-old son Russell was literally jumping up and down in front of the TV.

Big winner yesterday: Barry Bonds. Let the feds try to put him in jail now, with everybody else already outed. He's in, well, the clear. (How slow are the wheels of justice moving in the U.S. vs. Bonds, anyway?)

The court of public opinion, if no other judicial body, has already convicted McGwire's rival Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, and Rafael Palmeiro of using drugs. Since baseball locker rooms are real small and baseball contracts are real big, common sense tells us now that everybody used the so-called performance enhancing drugs.

Now we just have to wait for Cal Ripken to come out and confess to being a P.E.D.-ophile. Just say you took 'em and let us close the book on (here it comes!) the Dead Balls Era.

***

Where are they now? Well, here's former Bullet AJ English.

A small story on the wires about a Delaware high school basketball game caught my eye.

At the Appoquinimink boys basketball game against Howard on Tuesday evening, junior A.J. English III, who was on the bench in street clothes while serving a suspension, left the court and went into the locker room along with his brother A’Jen, a sophomore starting guard, at the conclusion of the first quarter and neither player returned.

They're sons of AJ English, who the Washington Bullets got with a second round pick in 1990 draft. English had a quiet two year career in the pros — and is remembered in NBA circles only as the guy who was always confused with the far more successful Alex English.

I, for one, still confuse the two. Which is the only reason I read the story. But the part about brothers standing up for each other as the English boys did got me intrigued, and through some Googling it seems AJ III is a hot prospect for Appoquinimink who got in a spot of trouble with the beautifully named basketball Coach, Spencer Dunkley, and that got his former Bullet dad, who goes by A.J. Jr. in these matters, into a tussle with the coach in the local media.

First, after a loss, Appoquinimink coach told the local paper, the Middletown Transcript: “Can't play with them. Can't win with them. Won't play with them. Don't need them. Please put that in the newspaper. Thanks, that's all I have to say."

So the high school beat reporter went to the former Bullet. And got this:

A.J. English Jr. had this to say about Appoquinimink High coach Spencer Dunkley’s quotes after a 62-61 loss to Middletown:

“That doesn’t deserve a response,” A.J. Jr. said. “My maturity level allows me to take the high road on that. Any coach knows you keep that kind of stuff in the lockerroom and out of the newspaper. How can any kid trust him after that?

“He showed his inexperience by making those statements.”

Appo's leading scorer A.J. English III was on the bench as time wound down and his team was down a point.English Jr. said A.J. III was suspended until Monday, Dec. 21 and is uncertain if he'll return.

I do get giggles out of the lengths some parents go to for alliterative kids names, tho. "A'Jen" seems a stretch. Guess "Alex" wasn't on the board.

***

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  • http://www.MaroonPR.com John Maroon

    Dave, one of the sad results of the age that we live in is that anyone, even you, can have a platform for his opinion. I know Cal and have worked with him since 1995. He is not a cheater. How irresponsible for you to insinuate that he is.

    Cal represented the game the way that all players should. He treated fans with respect and showed up to play each and every day.

    You really should be more responsible with your comments and back them with a shred of evidence.

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