Everybody in the bar leaned forward as the pitcher got ready. Even people who never gave a thought to baseball were drawn in and tense. We were all waiting for history to be made, for the big redhead to uncork one.
McGwire is the perfect American hero. He’s Paul Bunyanesque in size, with arms the size of oak limbs. A gentle giant, with a nice sense of humor and a generally genial nature. Like Babe Ruth, he’s larger than life and seems to do what he does best with a sense of joy. He’s also modest and generous in a way that many of our talented, highly paid and neurotically self-centered athletes are not. He’s a divorced father in a nation filled with divorced fathers with an obvious close, loving relationship with his son. His 10-year-old son, outfitted as a Cardinal bat boy, was there in the dugout filling in for thousands of young boys and girls who wanted to be there also. His folks, beaming, were in the stands. The rest of us, also beaming, were sitting in front of TV sets all over America, and waiting.
When it happened, when he connected and the ball took off to the left field stands and began to look like it might curve foul, McGwire froze, while millions of Americans leaned right to keep it fair. Then pandemonium. A sense of joy. A sense of release. A sense, for the first time in a long while, that watching something on TV actually made you feel better.
As he went around the base path, accepting congratulations from ballplayers on both teams, umpires and fans, and finally crossed home plate and carried his son to the dugout, we all felt a part, sharing the intimacy of a very public, private moment, and we all felt good.
As I thought about it, it’s been quite a while since we all felt good.
Events seem to conspire to make us feel bad.
The market seems to have peaked and is starting on the downhill slope. Economies all over the world are stalling, and we’re beginning to feel the effects. You can feel it sliding out front under us like loose sand. The president is in trouble, serious trouble, and no matter what you think about it, bottom line it makes you feel lousy. A plane crashes, and embassies blow up. There doesn’t seem to be much joy out there.
And then comes McGwire, and I feel good now, but I’m afraid it won’t last. I can smell it coming. I know the way the game is played in our world of mass and immediate communication. The higher we put someone on a pedestal, and certainly McGwire is on a pedestal now, the quicker we pull him down.
I don’t want to know the intimate details of McGwire’s life. I don’t want to know his sexual habits or see them exposed, explored and analyzed on talk shows. I don’t want to know what substances he ingests. I don’t want to know about his divorce or hear any tell-all tales about casual, one-night friendships struck up in a hotel bar. I don’t want to hear the grumbling of former teammates, unhappy business partners or parents of a kid his son played against in Little League. I want him to stay a hero.
If we are ever to end this craziness we live in where we have the need to tear down all our heroes just as fast as we elevate them, we have to be able to say, when the revisionist history comes, and it always does come, “Spare us the details.”