Baseball fans are not likely to forsake their sport in light of revelations that many of the game's eminent performers bound onto the field with noses full of cocaine. Baseball's patriarchs can relax. The fans' tolerance for sordidness and stupidity is apparently limitless.
Baseball's cocaine scandal is a typical contemporary American scandal -- to wit: it scandalizes no one, not even the angels in our midst. So many antiheroes have been receiving celebrity treatment that it seems to be de rigueur for the celebrated to act knavishly even in public, particularly if one is a professional athlete or a popular entertainer. As for the baseball drug bust, there will be a proper amount of pontification from the press corps, then will come the brave rationalizations, engauded with the latest psychological or sociological gibbering, then on to other diversions.
Already Commissioner Peter Ueberroth is being publicly admired for his "compassion," reminding us once again of the wit's wisdom in noting that those who deem patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel have underestimated compassion. Compassion is the easy virtue that exalts the virtuous whether he has acted virtuously or not; in fact, it exalts him though he may not have acted at all. Certainly Ueberroth is no scoundrel, but unless he takes rigorous measures against the scoundrels who traffic in drugs while under his authority, he will simply go down as one more practitioner of this exalted cop-out.
Keith Hernandez, the New York Mets' prodigious first baseman, has blurted out that in 1980, 40 percent of his colleagues were sozzling themselves on drugs, though he insists that the figure has declined. Actually, drug use remains prevalent, and not only in professional baseball. Commenting on baseball's controversy and the recriminations issuing from it, the New York Yankees' Don Baylor remarked, "It's gonna get a lot nastier before it gets better." He is an audacious opponent of drugs.
America has reputedly wised up to the stupidity of drugs, but sports fans still holler their he-man shouts for favored teams whether dominated by unsavory figures or not. The immense importance that some Americans, usually men, accord to professional sport is really not quite adult. As the evidence mounts that many athletes are playing under the influence of drugs, it is increasingly clear that the childish fans are being duped. There they sit mulling over the fine points of a play that might well have been executed by a gladiator strung out on drugs. Fans go mad for sports that apparently bore many athletes, who turn to cocaine to escape the tedium.
What is more, these cocaine-sniffers are also chumps. Some have been testifying that despite their habits they have played brilliantly. Enos Cabell, a Los Angeles Dodgers infielder, said he snorted cocaine as many as a hundred times between 1978 and 1984 and thought he performed quite well. Such naive claims bring to mind deluded writers such as the pathetic and long dead Thomas De Quincey, who bragged of his literary gifts.
Either Cabell would have been playing much better without the drug or he was hornswoggled into buying very low-grade cocaine. A cup of coffee might have been sufficient for his purposes. De Quincey, incidentally, came to an agonized end, and his writing was as wretched as his life. Doubtless, many of the drug users in big-time sport will end in similar squalor.
Cocaine is a baleful substance. Hernandez but hinted at its poisonous nature in testifying that it was "a demon in me . . . the devil on earth." The list of its victims grows every year, as authorities evade their responsibility.
In the present case, Ueberroth should suspend those athletes who have admitted to drugs. Professional athletes should be tested for drugs just as some amateurs are. Finally, compassion should be demoted and replaced by severity. This is made manifest in an absorbing book soon to be published, "The Snow Papers." There, Richard Smart chronicles the horror of cocaine, which dumped him from the heights of politics, power and prestige into a sink of dereliction. Who knows if he is really free of it?