Sandusky is pinnacle of generation shaped by scandal

I never understood what people meant when they said “it’s a different world.” Different from what? When I was growing up, all that meant was my mom never let us buy anything from the ice cream man.

Slowly but surely, I started to get it. I was 10 years old in August 2002, when Major League Baseball was hours away from canceling the remainder of the season. A strike? I thought that was when you threw a pitch over the plate. I didn’t know you could go on one.

The players and owners reached a last-minute agreement to save the season — and my elementary school faith in the world.

I was a little bit wiser by September 2004, when the NHL announced the cancellation of the entire season because of the lockout. I still didn’t know anything about labor unions or collective bargaining, but my middle school brain was able to understand that there was some type of problem that both sides needed to work on.

I remember December 2007 like it was yesterday. I darted out of ninth-period math class and missed my shot at asking a pretty girl to the winter dance because I was in a hurry to get home and read the Mitchell Report — 409 pages of never-before-seen information about illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, the result of a commission led by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

I obviously didn’t read the entire thing that afternoon, but I remember it being the first time I seriously thought ESPN was lying to me. I couldn’t believe how many “good guys” were connected with the stuff. In total, seven former MVPs and 31 former All-Stars (covering all nine positions) were named in the report.

I sat at my computer and kept hitting the refresh button. I wanted the page to change, but every time it gave me the same grave report. Roger Clemens’ MLB-record seven Cy Young Awards? Reported to be helped by steroids. Eric Gagne’s consecutive saves record? Tainted. Barry Bonds’ and Rafael Palmeiro’s record-breaking home run totals? Those were in question even before the report, but this really did them in.

Living through the Steroid Era changed the way sports fans view the world. We question every accomplishment and second-guess every athlete. If someone has a breakout season, my first thought is “What’s he on?” The Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista had never hit more than 16 home runs in a season over the first six years of his career, then exploded for 97 over the last two seasons. I want him to be a cool story about a hard-working guy, but “naive” isn’t even beginning to describe someone who isn’t at least considering PEDs.

College athletics were the last haven in all of sports — and then those crumbled too. USC and Ohio State headlined an extensive group of programs with major violations that went all the way to the top of the institutions. Not trusting professionals was one thing — it’s all money, money, money with them — but college kids weren’t supposed to be that way.

We’re drawn to good stories in sports and we flock to athletes who manage to retain their innocence. People have mixed feelings about Duke but everyone respects Coach K. and what he’s done for that program. Tebow Mania swept the nation as he ran through SEC defenses while staying humble and devoted.

Joe Paterno’s Penn State football program was the last of a dying breed. It had character. It had respect. The Nittany Lions’ no-nonsense uniforms were a reflection of the discipline that was the backbone of the program.

And now it’s dead.

A new story comes out about Jerry Sandusky every day, about the children he abused and the adults who didn’t do enough to stop it. It’s not going to get any better. I won’t understand any recruits who still choose to attend PSU in the fall — recruits can be released from their NLI’s if the coach is fired — and I won’t understand any current players who stay with the program instead of transferring.

I tried to read the Grand Jury report on Sandusky, but I just couldn’t do it. It makes me sick. I got to page 2 before reading that he performed and received oral sex from an 11-year-old and had to stop.

Penn State finally hired a PR firm that specializes in dealing with dire situations, but it’s a little too late for that. That should have been the first thing the school did. I’ve already talked to students in public relations classes who are doing projects on how not to handle a situation: the Penn State story. The school just needs to start over; clean house and rebuild from the top.

Joe Paterno had coached Penn State since 1966, being a beacon of character and honesty through the murk of big-time college athletics. And in a matter of days, his school and his reputation crashed and burned amid a scandal that keeps getting worse. The last program we thought we could trust went up in smoke — and we won’t be trusting anyone again any time soon.

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Sports bar fun

I got funny looks from my girlfriend and I definitely creeped out the waitress, but the kid inside of me teamed up with the sports nut and took over. I was at their mercy.    

It was getting late Saturday night after the U.S. had been eliminated from the World Cup, and my girlfriend insisted I begin to cheer up (women, huh?). We decided to go out to eat. I made my way towards Red Lobster on Maple by the Boulevard, and somewhere between the indecisiveness of women, heavy traffic and my lack of patience…we ended up at Tully’s on Main and Transit.      

Clearly, I was aggravated by the time we got to our seats, and to make matters worse, the soccer game was being replayed on every other television. It was too hard to watch, and I ended up putting my head down on the table to get away from it all.      

And there they were, baseball cards in the table. How cool was that? It’s not that hard to do, but I liked what I saw and it took my mind off the game. I read off the names in front of me, and, making small talk, I asked my girlfriend who she had on her side. This table has some good players, I thought. I read off more names. This table has some great players.      

And just like that, I was gone. I was moving ketchup bottles and napkin holders to read off every card on that table. By the time I finished I was certain this table had to be the best table ever in the history of a restaurant.      

I took a Powerball card and pencil and wrote down my roster (side note– trying to find pictures… could Tully’s have a lamer website?):      

My starting rotation was solid.      

1. Nolan Ryan. No explanation needed. All-time MLB strikeout leader. Absolute flamethrower.  An video exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame the last time I went said that when Ryan was on his game, “hitters” would come back to the dugout (from striking out) and tell the on-deck batter, “Don’t go up there.”    

To the couple behind us, I’m sorry I interrupted your meal when I raised my voice, but my girlfriend told me she didn’t know who Nolan Ryan was. You can see where I’m coming from.      

2. Roger Clemens. Another pitcher who needs no introduction. I think he’s innocent on the steroids, but that’s another story. Seven Cy Youngs, third place all-time in strikeouts and ninth all-time in wins. Big game pitcher.      

3. Orel Hershiser. Baseball Tonight host, a career batting average above the Mendoza line, and he was born in Buffalo. In 1988 he won 23 games, the Cy Young award, a Gold Glove, and was named World Series MVP. What’s not to love?      

These cards were great. Not Honus Wagner T206 great, but pretty darn good. Note the age of the card; Pittsburgh didn't have an "h" at the end.

4. Dave Stewart. AL All-Star in 1989 who led the league in games started four consecutive seasons (’88-’91) and owns a post-season ERA of 2.77.      

5. Mike Moore. Number one overall draft pick in 1981 and was another member of the AL All-Star team in ’89.      

In relief, I can call on either Tug McGraw or Jesse Orosco. Orosco is the all-time games leader for pitchers, while McGraw owns a 3.14 lifetime ERA and was one of the best character people in the game.    

After my pitchers put goose eggs on the scoreboard, I’m going to need some run support. My lineup is just as deadly as my rotation.   

1. Leading off is Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs (3B). Led the league in on-base percentage six times and hit .328 for his career. Won two Gold Gloves and was a 12-time All-Star.   

2. Batting second is HOFer Tony Gwynn (OF). Led the league in batting average eight times and was a career .338 hitter. Not known for his power (135 HRs in 20 seasons), but struck out only 434 times in over 10,000 plate appearances.   

3. Third is HOFer and 10-time All-Star Ryne Sandberg (2B). Has over 1,000 career RBIs to go along with a .285 career batting average, and slugged over .500 four times. Also owns nine Gold Glove awards.   

4. Cleaning up is none other than Hank Aaron (OF). Don’t know what his card was doing in a table (must be a reprint), but he can hit cleanup for me any day. Still the all-time home run leader in my eyes with 755, Hammerin’ Hank was named to the All-Star team 21 times and is the MLB career leader in RBIs with 2,297.   

5. Batting fifth is Juan Gonzalez (OF), who led the league in homers twice and has over 1,400 career RBIs. If anybody is left on base after Henry bats, Juan will hit them in.  (Bonus points with me because my Sega Genesis game used to say “Juan Gon is long gone.” Sorta rhymes.)  

6. Catcher was the only position I didn’t have on the table, but Kevin Mitchell will have to do. We’re hoping to get him in 1989 form, the year he won the MVP after hitting 47 homers, slugging .635 and knocking in 125 runs.   

Hot Chili

7. No easy out in the order. Seventh is Wally Joyner (1B), who hit .280 or better 11 times in his 16-year career.   

8. Miguel Tejada (SS). Gives power and speed to the bottom of the order, and can get on base for when the top hitters come back up. Twice led the league in doubles and once reached 150 RBIs. Is a six-time All-Star and owner of a .289 career average.   

9. Pitcher.   

My bench players (or DHs) are Jose Offerman and Chili Davis. Offerman is a two-time All-Star who twice led the league in triples. He once stole 45 bases, so he could pinch run late in games too. Davis was a three-time All-Star… and who doesn’t love Chili Davis?     

So that’s my roster. No rhyme or reason for doing this, but it was fun and it killed time before my meal. Definitely took my mind off U.S. soccer losing, which I am very thankful for. I wonder if other tables have good players like this too. In the rare event that you read this and are going to Tully’s later, make your roster and comment it below. I mean, my team would kick your team’s behind with blindfolds on… but it would still be fun.   

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Other thoughts on recent sports:   

One of Big Z's many outbursts

Stephen Strasburg is due for a Carlos Zambrano-sized fit if he doesn’t start getting more run support. One of these days he’s going to shut the other team out on the mound, then get on base and help himself out like he did against the Bisons. In his two wins, the Nationals have scored a combined 14 runs, but in his two losses? Zilch.   

Speaking of the Carlos Zambrano situation, I think the Cubbies need to take five and chill out. I’m fine with him going out to dinner with White Sox’s manager Ozzie Guillen hours after it happened. If anybody has experience with losing their temper, it’s Ozzie. I’m sure he had a pointer or two for Big Z about the course of action to take to make things better between him and his ball club. And what’s the worst that could happen? Ozzie woos Zambrano and he signs with the Sox? That would do the Cubs a huge favor, getting rid of a mediocre pitcher with a big salary.   

I’m slightly confused on the AP style for all time versus all-time, so I just kept it consistent. It reads “An all-time high, but the greatest runner of all time,” with no further explanation.