I looked two words up for exact definitions.
First - "Characters" - The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature some person or thing.
Second - "Caricatures" - A grotesque imitation or misrepresentation: To represent or imitate in an exaggerated, distorted manner.
Why? In many ways we need far more of the first, and less of the latter. This week it has come full full circle with the performance enhancing drug suspensions of still more Major League Baseball Players including Alex Rodriguez, who is determined to be his own worst enemy. I could care less about him and the rest of these suspended idiots.
But I do care about baseball, its legacy, and history. Baseball is a game of numbers and that fascinates us and it's worth protecting. And even though MLB is entirely too late, and let steroids go on far too long, at least they are starting to get what us real fans have always gotten. Guarding the games legacy, is the best gift to give it.
For over a 100 years baseball has been full of "characters" who are worth preserving. A heritage no other sport, heck anything else really American has. And the game has always been played by those with a story to tell. Not always a nice one, but legends that have formed the game and given us the glory that is baseball.
From the early days of the remarkable, record setting Ty Cobb who was actually hated by all players for his dirty play. Honus Wagner who became the games first real superstar from immigrant roots before there were home run fences. Christy Mathewson, one of the games first great pitchers won almost 400 games being devoutly religious and wouldn't pitch on Sundays. Mathewson then went off to WWI and later died young from the chemical weapons he inhaled. Walter Johnson who was throwing pitches at 100 mph, when Indy cars were only going 70.
Babe Ruth changed the game with the home run, smoking cigars, womanizing and weighing way too much, eating hot dogs every day and throwing money around. His team mate Lou Gerigh gave us courage and strength when all the while an unknown disease was ravaging his body. Pitcher Rube Waddell was a wild man reportedly pitching many times still drunk from the night before.
As eras move on so did the stories. Jackie Robinson was more than a ballplayer as we all learned. Hank Aaron dealt with death threats from fans as he chased down Ruth's Home Run record. And Willie Mays who spawned the face of the new, complete player that could do it all. Mickey Mantle was the star of the New York Yankees in the mid 1950's and wasn't making enough money to get a credit card. And not to mention former Cleveland Indian Bob Feller who along with tons of other greats went to WWII, losing countless prime career years, while winning a more important battle. These are examples of baseballs "characters". Those for 100 plus years have defined a game and made us love it. Legends such as Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, George Sisler and Grover Cleveland Alexander. Google them. See what they achieved it's amazing. And they need protecting.
Protection from the "caricatures" of today. Sure, there are many great and honest players in today's game, the Derek Jeter's. But now we have the inflated stats and reputations of other cheating players, that for 20 years or more earned them tons of money. But also has earned them clown-like statures in the halls of history. I am fine with that. They can spend their money, but in turn they can spend their older years crumbling away physically and watching the names of Babe, Ty, Honus, Jackie and Willie live on, while theirs withers away deeply and forever into the baseball abyss.
The irony when you think about it is this. Our "characters," spent decades practicing vices that were actually performance inhibiting. They were great players that were simply great. Smoking, drinking, womanizing, sleeping on trains making little money compared to today's players. Many working part time jobs in the off season. And others carrying the extreme weight of social change, or war all the while playing the game at its highest level. They all handed over the game, and made the modern game possible.
As for more modern players who have done, and some still do performance enhancing drugs, they simply are not better players, drugs or not. So many records have stood for so many years by true immortals it's almost surreal. And it's apt and it's just.
Most of these modern "immortals" are still too young to get it . For that long list of literally lying cheaters, the Sosas, McGuires, and so on, and now this new class led by A-Rod. There will be a time they will come to know that character would have been far preferable to caricature.