The innocence is gone for Mr. Cynic. (That would be me.) The highlight packages sail across his television screen every night, dingers and dongers, web gems and 98-miles-per-hour high heat -- gotcha! He would like to lather up and bathe in the excitement the way he once did, but that is impossible. He finds that he doesn't believe any of it any more.
"Miguel Cabrera On Possible Triple Crown Pace Again!"
"Yeah, what's he taking?" Mr. Cynic asks.
"Chris Davis Explodes!"
"And something's helping him explode. A little kindling perhaps."
"Domonic Brown… Paul Goldschmidt… Matt Harvey…"
"Too good to be true."
Nothing is real. That is how Mr. Cynic feels. Everybody in professional baseball is cheating. This may not be the case -- indeed, all of these names already mentioned could be fueled by nothing more than Cheerios, blueberries and eight solid hours of sleep every night -- but Mr. Cynic has decided that it is better to suspect everyone rather than to suspect no one. He is in much less danger of being disappointed this way.
"I am a veteran of the home run summer of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa," he says. "Barry Bonds was the greatest hitter I ever saw. Roger Clemens was the most devastating pitcher. Rafael Palmeiro, I watched him say what he said at the Congressional hearing…"
That was enough.
Logic says that if the best players were loading up, everyone was loading up. The best players were the ones who were caught. Or half-caught. Or allegedly caught. Whatever it was. The rest escaped, saved by their more average numbers. Business proceeded pretty much as usual. The so-called Steroid Era never really ended. It morphed into the Human Growth Hormone Era or maybe something else. Illegality triumphed in the end.
"I know Major League Baseball has tried some things to stop it," Mr Cynic says. "Tests. Suspensions. All of that. I just don't think anything has worked."
He has become more suspicious about the sport than a Tea Party Republican watching Barack Obama eat lunch. Something always is up. Something is taking place behind the simplest acts. Something. The pharmacologists and the scientists are always ahead of the testers. There is too much money involved. Blah, blah. Everyone is looking for an edge. The edge can be anywhere. These guys will do anything to succeed. Blah, blah. They are, after all, human.
"Barry Bonds and those other players weren't bad people," Mr. Cynic says. "They were just looking for the edge. In a way, they were pioneers. They were pioneers in cheating. The players today aren't bad people, either. They're just out on that same edge."
He equates modern baseball to Tour de France cycling in the past 20 years. Even the most casual observer knew that bad things were happening at the Tour de France. Proof came in an arrest here, a confession there, dribs and drabs. That news always was trumped, however, by a public relations campaign that said no matter what you hear or see or think, our champion, Lance Armstrong, is involved in none of this. There was a last possibility of clean air. The casual observer had room for doubt, room to believe in the fairy tale until it all came crashing down in the past year.
Baseball tries to provide us with that same room for doubt, same room to believe. All things are possible. There still can be that miracle story, the kid from the farm club who suddenly found some power in an adjustment to his swing and has arrived as a major new talent. There still can be that cagey veteran, finally healthy again, back with a fastball that he couldn't find earlier in his career, now able to mow down hitters in a row. There still can be tape-measure home runs. There still can be walk-off dramas that lift and inspire. There still can be explanations for everything.
Mr. Cynic simply doesn't believe any of them.
"I'd like to believe," he says. "I live in Boston. That's a nice little story the Red Sox have going, last to first. I'd like to believe that everyone is just trying harder, that new manager John Farrell has had a great effect. I'd like to believe in the return of David Ortiz, the rise of Daniel Nava, stuff like that, believe it is real. I just can't."
So now apparently another grand scandal is brewing. ESPN's "Outside The Lines" had a report yesterday that major league baseball might come down with suspensions on a list of players that includes Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and as many as 20 players for use of performance-enhancing drugs. The scandal is tied to the now famous Biogenesis Clinic in the Miami area. Founder Tony Bosch, according to ESPN, will provide testimony to Major League Baseball in exchange for immunity.
None of this shocking to Mr. Cynic.
"He's always been shaky."
"He's been even shakier. He escaped that last suspension on a technicality."
"I'll bet there are Tony Bosch characters planted around the country. I'll bet they're all doing a fine business. I'll bet you'll never find half of them. MLB is shoveling sand against a tide that can't be stopped."
Mr. Cynic sometime thinks, alas, that everyone should be allowed to do or take everything or anything. The only rule should be that there is no rule.
That way everybody would be honest.