Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Bud Selig's Glass House

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer

OAKLAND (April 22) – I recently had the opportunity, during the break between the end of the World Baseball Classic and Opening Day of the regular season, to travel to the lovely Finger Lakes region of New York State and the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Expecting a quiet retreat filled with ritual reflection over revered artifacts such as Honus Wagner’s tattered spikes and Babe Ruth’s 54 oz. lumber, I was met instead by the buzz of commotion in this otherwise sleepy village over plans for a controversial new museum – devoted to an honest view of the seamier side of the history of our National Pastime – being planned for a lot adjacent to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Click below for more!I have learned that the new institution will be called “The National Museum of Performance Enhancement.”

Apparently, BALCO has come to Baseball Heaven.

Alarmed media types and their lieutenants in Major League Baseball officialdom are scrambling for spin. Already having their steroid scapegoats and alibis all lined up, this new development could disrupt their plans to use a juiced ball and an explosion of home runs in 2006 as a smokescreen to cover their own culpability.

And there is a great deal of speculation in the the watering holes on Lake Ostego about exactly what will come of this museum project, described in the Cooperstown Examiner as a “slice of the genuine, adulterated America that we try to forget.”

Locals are calling it the Hall of Blame.

The word on the street has it that Victor Conte, the mad chemist of Balco, and former base guitar for Tower of Power, has contributed a substantial amount of money to the independent venture, with the stipulation that the walls will be nearly entirely constructed of clear glass.

MLB officials claim to be concerned about the potential clash of architectural styles, the Hall of Fame being a rather staid, dark, colonial brick box. They want the new building to be in a more “appropriate” setting, having suggested San Francisco, in view of its connection to the Balco (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) doping scandal. Or Salem, Mass., the site of the Witch Trials.

I had occasion to have a look at some of the project drawings over a pastrami sandwich one evening during my visit.

Once inside the glass structure, the visitors will encounter a life-sized Bud Selig in the act of throwing, exactly what we are not sure.

Interestingly, the life-like likeness of Barry Bonds is not out in front of the new museum, as MLB officials apparently wanted. I guess they figured he would make a better target out there in the open by himself.

An observor of the media feeding frenzy around Bonds might almost think that he is a lone villain. But the Victims’ Room at the new museum will help to change that perception, helping us to see him, and his peers, as much as the exploited as the exploiters.

Rather than standing out, his undeniably hulking and scowling post-1998 presence blends almost implausibly – virtually into the background – when surrounded with a whole assortment of familiar figures, including Canseco, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Juan Gonzalez, Bret Boone, Rafael Palmiero, Mo Vaughn, and so on and so on.

There are literally hundreds of these enormous SUV-like specimens, right off the MLB assembly line, and it’s quite a revealing and even frightening spectacle. Who knew?

But these statutes are not a just any old collection of oversized bobbleheads. Bonds and the rest are some of the greatest, if not THE greatest, players of all time. The excesses of 2006 are no more nor no less than those of the previous scandal-ridden, web-gem punctuated 140 glorious years of organized baseball.

We may be surprised when the usual supects above are joined in the spacious Victims’ Room by another group of past and present stars – Koufax, Mantle, Schmidt, Kerry Wood, Eric Gagne are but a few of the many we would recognize instantly. And it’s because of the presence of these names which we don’t normally associate with the current stigma of “performance enhancement” that we begin to understand Conte’s point.

Barry Bonds can be no more diminished for being a product of the overwhelming and dehumanizing force of modern marketing and his times than Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker could be for throwing big league games for a pocketful of gambling money.

I don’t especially favor things that are bad for one’s body. But, let’s be honest. Barry Bonds has overcome his share of obstacles through very hard work and incredible ability, in addition to whatever “shortcuts” he has taken. And he has been been victimized by a racist undercurrent and a romantic naiivete about rivals like Ruth and Aaron – and any star in today’s culture – making it “on their own.”

Back to the museum tour! The new building will have displays devoted to “The Uneven Playing Field,” where transparencies depicting the enormous right field dimensions of AT&T Park, southpaw Bonds’ home field, are overlaid on drawings of Ruth’s and Maris’ Yankee Stadium (296 ft. to right). The same treatment is given in a comparison of AT&T with Henry Aaron’s tiny Launching Pad in Atlanta and friendly ol’ Milwaukee County Stadium.


Here, too, I found notes about an intriguing-sounding exhibit devoted to some of the pitchers that Ruth and Maris did NOT face. Maris, playing in the still relatively segregated AL in 1961, had the additional fortune of facing a steady diet of Pacific Coast League-quality hurlers, due to the pitching dilution accomplished by American League expansion to ten teams in 1961.

And the Babe never had to face a Smokey Joe Williams (of whom none other than the notoriously racist Ty Cobb said would have been a “sure thirty game winner in the big leagues”) or a Bullet Joe Rogan, two sublime black hurlers whose baseball lives coincided with Ruth’s rise to legendary status, and who were among scores more who were banned because of their race, and whose careers also coincided with Ruth’s.

Makes you wonder, don’t it?

I was intrigued with the plans for the “performance enhancement technology of old” display. They are trying to get the original tendon from Tommy John’s surgically altered bionic arm to be featured at an interactive kiosk which will allow museum visitors to do virtual operations on any of the hundreds of major leaguers who have had whole new careers after undergoing the “Tommy John Surgery.”

And there will be a model of Sandy Koufax horribly disfigured left arm, before he went out and won 26 in 1965, and then 27 in 1966, and before he took his daily doses of cortisone (a cortico-steroid) and Butazolidin, an anti-inflammatory so toxic that it was banned for horses.

Special lenses will allow viewers to get a sense of what a major league fastball looks like before and after the same vision enhancement surgery as performed on Mark McGwire, and numerous others, before his 70 home run season.

And then there is that pre-1921, yet still top secret, baseball-winding-and-sewing machine, one of the ones that can be calibrated for home runs on demand, in oder to produce those periodic home run deluges, just like the early-season big fly blizzard we are seeing in MLB in 2006. That Victor Conte must be tight with some real baseball insiders to get a hold of a gem like that.

The plans for a final display, titled “Cheating is as American as Apple Pie,” left me with a chuckle. There will be a simulated bird’s eye view from the perch where a spy with binoculars in the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds centerfield clubhouse stole the Indians’ signs, and the 1954 World Series. In a short film loop, A Wrigley Field groundskeeper demonstrates how to slow down opposing baserunners with a well-aimed hose and muddy basepaths. A large glass jug full of a slimy-looking white liquid represents an estimated season’s worth of spit balls from the likes of Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, and Elston Howard demonstrates, through a series of cartoons, the precise engraving of the horsehide he would regularly perform when Hall of Famer Whitey Ford was on the mound. Huge bowls of mock multi-colored ‘greenies’ (amphetamines), set out like candy dishes, decorate a typical trainers’ room. And on the way out of the building a large notice with a prominent 1-800 phone number asks any visitors who have tweaked their taxes, or otherwise bent the rules to advance their own fortunes (including a certain MLB owner who became commissioner while retaining his club), to please call the IRS or the SEC immediately.

Somebody should tell Bud to put down his stones.


1 Anonymous { 04.21.06 at 8:06 pm }

I find this argument of “Everybody did it, so it’s okay” very disturbing. I find the depiction of Barry the Victim and that this is a “wich hunt” and “racist” sad. Does anyone have to take peronal responsibility any more for anything?. I find it very telling that Bonds and his lawyers did not bring libel or slander charges against Farainu-Wadu and Williams. He’s being investigated for perjury. There could be tax evasion charges. These things happened. And I would agree that Victor Conte is a “base player” but I imagine that you meant that he played the bass.

2 Anonymous { 04.22.06 at 2:03 am }

Thanks for the feedback. None of this is “OK,” it’s just a matter of how do we really get to the source and not scapegoat people. I think people are using Barry Bonds for their own purposes. And like so many observors say, he makes it easy because of his manner. But you have to be blind if you don’t think racism is involved – Mickey Mantle, my boyhood hero, was a drunk, played drunk, was a drunk and abusive parent, but the whole thing was just an aspect of being a good ol’ boy to the writers who identified with him and covered his ass. I don’t happen to be attracted to Barry Bonds as a player and a personality, even though I think he is a great one. But I am just not into blaming individuals for society’s problems. (I wouldn’t even blame Bud Selig, but I would explain the role that he plays in steering criticism away from the culture that created these problems and profits from them). I think we are all victims of the marketing culture, and the players are commodities, although very well-rewarded ones in money terms – and this separates us from them. A friend was talking about listening to Duke Snider being interviewed and how the players back then were of the same socio-economic profile as the fans. This allowed for a kind of bonding and community feeling that we all long for in these aleinated, money-addicted times. Thanks, Rick

3 Anonymous { 04.22.06 at 8:25 am }

But using alcohol and abusing your children doesn’t give you an edge in the game. Bonds made his choices. Other players, like Griffey and Thomas, made other decisions. For everyone, in the end, it has to be about personal responsibility.

4 Anonymous { 04.22.06 at 11:44 am }

Personal responsibility, please. How come that seems to apply to everyone these days but to corporations and the govt.? Bush was fooled by bad evidence from the CIA? Yea right. He is responsible for manipulating the intelligence.

The “pressure” to take steroids and/or any other enhancing drug is embedded in the sports industry. That’s the real problem. And anyone who thinks that the witchhunt after Bonds is not in large part due to racism has no idea what racism is. It’s easier to go after Bonds because he is black. And, of course, the fact that he talks back infuriates white America cause they still don’t like “uppity” blacks. Thanks to Glenn Dickey and any other white journalist who still talks about racism in sports.
-Mike E.

5 Anonymous { 04.22.06 at 8:30 pm }

Dear anonymous,
I mentioned Mickey’s alcohol thing to illustrate how the media and the writers will treat people differently, and I guess it’s up to us to try to figure out why. I also don’t especially believe in the widely accepted concept of “free choice.” Neither Mickey nor Barry nor George Bush nor you or me is free to act any other way than the way we do. Hopefully, the people in the world who are fortunate enough to have been influenced in a postive and sociable way will some day figure out how to overturn things like racism and nepotism and privilege and ultimately predominate, partly by sreading the idea that all people are equal, regardless of their deficiencies or strengths. This is a hard and new idea for most of us. As for specific individuals, such as Griffey and (Frank?) Thomas, you don’t know anything about what they have done or not done. Thanks for your stimulating feedback. It seems like there is a lot of interest in some of the issues that you raise and maybe I will try to write a column that will continue this important process. I will say that the person who responded to your first comment, Mike E., pretty much expressed how I feel about the realities of how racism is “embedded” in this culture and underlies and impacts virtually everything about it, and implied that if you can’t see that – and many people can’t – it’s only becaue you haven’t lived through it. Let me emphasize that I think that this difference is a matter only of experience , not of one person who happens to have one idea or opinion being “good” and another person who happens to have a different idea or opinion being “bad,” or that someone who understands is superior to someone who doesn’t (because they haven’t had the experience) Please keep up the discussion. We really need a lot of dialogue on these issues – and they obviously go way beyond baseball and sports, although sports have alway been one of the most powerful windows on our culture. Thanks, Rick

6 Anonymous { 04.22.06 at 8:40 pm }

Mike E –
Thanks for your penetrating comment about steroids and racism and sports. PLEASE SEE MY COMMENT TO THE SAME MESSAGE YOU WERE RESPONDING TO. You might want to find my earlier column titled “Blaming Barry,” which you will find listed on this site as “Love of the Game welcomes writer Rick Kaplan”. Now that I think of it, Monte Poole, writing in the Oakland Tribune a couple of weeks ago, wrote a very strong column on these issues (you could probably find it online at Look for a column by me in the near future on this site which will attempt to clarify and advance this dialogue. Thanks, Rick Kaplan

7 Anonymous { 04.23.06 at 5:20 pm }

I don’t agree with you. I believe we have choices every day on how we act.

And Joe Morgan on ESPN said that he felt that the steroids situation should be investigated, and I saw Stephen A. Smith, an African Ameican journalist from ESPN2 Frankly Speaking and the Philadelphia Inquirer said that Bonds should “stop whining.” So, people have different opinions on it.

8 Anonymous { 04.23.06 at 10:04 pm }

It would be helpful if there was a name attached to the comments, both as a friendly thing and as a way to keep track of who I am responding to. Theis whole discussion about “choice” is pretty complicated. It’s really hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and say what you would do it you were that person. I like to stick with what I think is the best choice in my life. It gets a little tricky when we are judging someone else’s choices, especially a public person, and we are making all kind of errors or oversights or whatever and nobody is calling attention to them. Again, I am not excusing or advocating steroids. On the contrary, my position would be a pretty harsh series of steps, similar to the current arrangement but even harsher, with progressive suspensions, etc. but minus the judgemental and moralistic stuff. As for Joe Morgan and Stephen A. Smith. one is a really good baseball analyst and possibly the greatest second baseman ever, and the other is an entertainer who makes his living off of outrageous sound bites. As for your implying that they know what is racist and what isn’t about the Barry Bonds issue, this gets very tricky. They may have good judgement and insight about this and they may not – It’s kind of like when some non-Asian people are looking for a Chinese restaurant and they see that a place has a number of Chinese families as patrons and the assumption is made that if they eat there the food must be really good. Well, that isn’t necessarily true. It kind of depends on how much the people eating there know or care about food. It seems like there are a lot of other african american people who think this whole thing is racist, so you have to consideer them too if you are going to start polling black people. This thing is kind of reminding me of the OJ thing, where a lot of black people – who I am guessing even may have thought OJ probably was guilty – really resisted the whole case against him because they saw it as a huge racist attack and degradation on/of black people in general. This is an example I think of what african american people mean when they say that most caucssian people just don’t understand what it is like to be black in this society. So, let’s take this back to how this Barry deal is shaking out, remembering that I am not a Barry Bonds fan. Thanks, Rick.

9 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:13 pm }

10 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:50 pm }

You must log in to post a comment.