THE POSTER BOY
There was a serendipitous moment in last night’s Red Sox-Royals telecast on NESN. The Red Sox announcers spent a good portion of an Alex Gordon at bat criticizing Royals management for putting too much pressure on Gordon to become the next George Brett. Interesting analysis from an organization only too well known for putting pressure on players to perform. Early in his career, Carl Yastrzemski nearly buckled under the pressure to become the next Ted Williams. But that’s ancient history. Let’s fast forward a bit, to a story more pertinent to the state of baseball today, a time when at least one of last night’s NESN announcers was already in the booth, so he should know the history only too well, when a young right fielder entered the Red Sox training camp in Winter Haven, Florida amid overwhelming expectations, certainly overwhelming for him, as later developments would bear out. The early spring training stories on Brady Anderson touted him as a legitimate five tool star and a future hall of famer. Having spent the previous season watching Anderson play for the Sox double A team in New Britain I knew he was a nice outfielder, but five tool player and future hall of famer I wasn’t anywhere near ready to commit to. In the media training camp lunch room I asked then Boston Globe Red Sox beat writer Peter Gammons how many times he’d seen Anderson play. Other than spring training, he hadn’t, nor had any of the other big league beat writers who were writing Anderson’s praises. The message had to be coming from within the organization. The pressure under which Anderson entered his first major league season was unfair. Unlike Yaz, he did buckle, and he was shipped to the Orioles, who held the same high expectations and felt they’d come to fruition once Anderson was out from under the intense media scrutiny in Boston. This time when Anderson succomed to the pressure, and the way he responded, would mark the beginning of a dark era in Major League Baseball, which has yet to get out from under the cloud. In 1996 Anderson lived up to his advance billing by hitting 50 home runs. There was only one group of people on the planet that didn’t smell a rat. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and his band of robber barons, who were standing by to cash in. In four previous season in the major leagues Anderson had hit 20 home runs just once, when he hit 21 in 1992. In the three seasons prior to his 50 home run breakout campaign he hit a total of 41. After 1996 he would never hit 20 home runs again. History now tells us Brady Anderson was just setting the stage for the power surge Selig and his robber barons would turn into big paydays at the turnstiles. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa assaulted Roger Maris’ cherished thirty five year old record with ease and were celebrated throughout the game and it’s network partners all the way. Barry Bonds made Hank Aaron’s most hallowed of all baseball records, look like child’s play. Selig allowed his corrupt owners to attach premium prices to games that featured McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, anyone attached to the now bogus records. Baseball historians, the ones who still care about the integrity of the game, now designate 1996 as the beginning of the “steroid era”, and Brady Anderson as the poster boy of the dawn of it all. It all started in Boston. Look where we are now, and who is the new poster boy. That’s serendipity. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.