Would you tell your editor," said the friend, frustrated but not quite pleading, "to get those drug guys out of the sport pages. Put the names and the stories somewhere else, if you have to report it all, but you people just deal with sports."
By definition, fans are perpetual children, among the last to recognize reality -- and to deal with it. Newspapers that ignore life beyond the white lines are doing everyone, including the athletes, a considerable disservice. We will get back to emphasizing baseball when the commissioner of baseball is able to do just that -- and back to strong-side blitzes in college football when schools such as TCU stop buying players.
The frightening part of the latest drugs-and-cheating mess is how casual it all seems to have become. John Milner had nothing particular to do in the early innings, he being a pinch hitter for the Pirates June 13, 1980, so he walked back into the clubhouse and bought two grams of cocaine from a dealer.
After the game, Milner testified, he and Dave Parker "went for a ride . . . snorted a little bit and went our separate ways."
That was a fair year for sporting crime, 1980. Prior to that recruiting season, according to the letter of resignation written by board member Dick Lowe, the TCU cheating scheme was concocted by himself, former head coach F.A. Dry and a couple of his assistants, over dinner.
Something like: "Men, if we gotta cheat to win, we'll cheat. Ah, pass the bearnaise."
The necessary conspirators and funds were rounded up very quickly.
"Everyone else in the (Southwest) conference was buying players," Lowe's letter insisted, "and . . . the only way we could compete was to buy players also."
Evidently, the TCU bandits were as green as rookies in every other endeavor.
Most college football cheaters at least win.
It took TCU four years to buy more than a 3-8 record.
A fellow who goes 1-10, 2-7-2 and 3-8 with the alums paying top dollar for what Oklahoma's Barry Switzer calls "stallions and stingers" ought to be fired, and Dry was after the 1982 season. At that time, there were 29 players receiving more than the NCAA allows, Lowe said.
Lowe insisted Dry's replacement, Jim Wacker, knew nothing of the illegalities.
"When he asked me if there was anything going on, there was a moral decision and a practical decision," Lowe said. "If I make the moral decision and tell him, he turns us in, the squad is stripped of its talent and he comes in under probation. We would have had no chance of rebuilding."
Some cynics cocked an eye when the Frogs went from 1-8-2 to 8-4 in Wacker's second season, miracles being even less common in sports than religion. Sure enough, in addition to being quite a good coach, Wacker had six of Dry's double-dip holdovers, including the immensely gifted runner Kenneth Davis.
"A normal blue-chip player costs between $10,000 to $20,000, a car and $1,000 a month," Lowe said. That's in addition to the chance for an education valued at perhaps $40,000. So the minimum wage at many, if not most, football factories is $60,000 to $72,000.
Seems like moral madness, right?
Well, consider that for slightly more than $1 million a year (nobody has more than 15 blue-chippers in each class), the college football cheaters might generate more than $10 million a year. That's in addition to goose bumps and inner glow for such as Lowe.
Lots of us veterans of cheating scandals are rather pleased that the players are at least getting a decent slice of the take. We find nothing repulsive about a linebacker twice Carling Bassett's size and several years older being able to legally earn perhaps a fifth of her income.
But if the colleges are going to preach ethics and high moral standards, they had better do as much as possible to wipe out the cheaters. Recent NCAA legislation is aimed at doing exactly that. Just guessing, but TCU may have turned itself in to the NCAA in order to beg for mercy later.
In baseball, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth is trying for the same showy force the colleges produced several months ago. He wants the players to submit to random drug testing three times a year, beginning in 1986. You would think that the players would realize that theirs is a sport that sells itself on being a public trust -- and would quickly volunteer to suffer a slight indignity to at least offer the appearance of being clean.
Through the executive director of their union, Don Fehr (pronounced fear), the players have said: "Nuts." On this issue, most of what the players have to fear is Fehr himself.
"I don't particularly agree with it (Ueberroth's plea)," said the Braves' Bob Horner, "but I understand it. I don't know if there's that big a problem, but when the situation gets as bad as it has in the last three or four months, what are you going to do?"
Just as tougher rules will not totally eliminate college football thievery, random drug tests will not entirely snuff out the snorters from baseball. But they at least would be good-faith gestures to a public that demands little from players other than an honest effort and compliance with the laws.
Olympians don't fuss about testing; neither should shortstops.
In Fehr's defense, this is strong-arm renegotiation. The owners and players did, after all, agree to drug procedures in the spring of 1984. Fehr has hinted that the union might bend, for a price. Right now, they seem the villains to a surprisingly tolerant public.
If the fans had been livid rather than forgiving, if they had refused to pay to watch Keith Hernandez play rather than giving him an ovation after his admissions under oath, Ueberroth surely would have suspended some players. He has a more important matter to resolve: credibility. To borrow a line from Joe Paterno: it'll either get better or it'll get worse.