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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath


Athens, NY—What if you woke up this morning to news headlines about a breaking scandal in which motorsports athletes were forced to admit to taking illegal drugs? It might read something like this…

Michael Schumacher was confronted yesterday by members of the European press who quoted unnamed sources that confirm he has been taking an experimental hand-eye-coordination enhancing formula known as Steeroids for the last seven or eight years.

"I was just obeying orders," the F1 champion responded. "The team’s trainer told me that my refusal to eat carrots makes it necessary for him to prescribe supplements which replace the vitamins I don’t get at the dinner table. I could never stomach carrots—as a kid I would throw them on Ralfie’s plate or feed them to our Schnauzer."

In Indianapolis Robin Miller asked Tony Kanaan point blank whether performance-enhancing drugs were responsible for his sudden success.

"I never took anything illegal," the rookie top-dog f-inheritor driver insisted. "Although I’ll admit it’s possible that our gym rat team owner may have been slipping human growth hormone into my Gatorade bottle during pit stops."

"Judging by the size of your honker, Tony, it appears that the juice works extremely well," Miller quipped. "Actually, your schnoz is doing a Pinocchio as we speak."

Meanwhile, at a press conference in Charlotte yesterday, aging NASCAR perennial Mark Martin took pains to distance himself from the scandal. He stressed that his sponsor’s product is a legal prescription drug and added, "While I appreciate everything Viagra has done for me and the team, I assure you that none of us have ever taken it…during a race weekend."

Hypothetical comedy aside, what I find most ironic about this not-so-funny ongoing baseball doping scandal is something which has not yet been tangential-ized by stick-and-ball pundits and moral-high-ground op-ed writers.

It should be noted that, aside from his incredible baseball resume, Babe Ruth was equally renowned for the ability to consume mass quantities of comestibles. For Ruth the national pastime wasn’t baseball; it was pigging out, carousing, and guzzling innumerable adult beverages on a nightly basis—season in and season out.

When the Sultan of Swat set the long-standing 60 home runs in a single 154-game season record in 1927, he appeared as the antithesis of what our well-trained modern-day athletes would desire to emulate. In fact, the Bambino looked porky even next to the other ballplayers of his era.

Nonetheless, it took 34 years and an asterisk for the muscular Roger Maris to squeak by Ruth’s single-season homer record in a 162-game campaign. However, it could just as easily have been Triple Crown winner Mickey Mantle who achieved the elusive 61 in ’61.

Mantle went shot-for-shot with his teammate throughout the season and, at times, was even a dinger or two ahead of Maris. Unfortunately, the Mick was sidelined with a mystery ailment two weeks before the end of the pennant race and he finished with a measly 54 round-trippers—including an inside-the-park job that he somehow ran out on those perpetually taped diseased legs.

Mantle, incidentally, achieved his Hall of Fame status despite what he admitted in his autobiography before he died—that he was an alcoholic and a chronic carouser. Even the clean-cut Maris, who was Mantle’s roommate that year, must have partied with Mickey and his legendary Yankee nightlife posse on at least a couple of occasions.

It took 37 years before there would be another home run derby to rival the M-Boys epic duel. Of course, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa—the 1998 duelers—are now among the prime suspects accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs to get into MLB’s record book. How else could they have been so easily able to crush Ruth and Maris’ unbeatable achievements?

Getting back to motor sports, two-time CART and Indy 500 champion, Al Unser Jr., gridded for 192 consecutive Champ Car races despite his well-publicized drinking problem, Marlboro addiction, alleged drug abuse, and a somewhat sordid personal life. When compared with some of the other under-trained drivers of his era—except, of course for another Ruthian figure, AJ Foyt—Little Al not only appeared to be the most out of shape driver but also bigger than his famous namesake, as well.

So considering the success of under-trainers and over-indulgers throughout sports history why would any athlete risk embarrassment, loss of income, criminal charges, illness or even death by taking performance-enhancing drugs?

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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