After eight members of the Chicago White Sox were indicted by a grand jury for fixing the 1919 World Series, the Chicago Herald and Examiner reported that "one little urchin" latched onto Shoeless Joe Jackson's sleeve and asked him "It ain't true, is it?"
Jackson's forthright response, however, is known to very few: "Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is."
Ninety-two years later, America is in short supply of little urchins, let alone newspaper reporters to record their interactions with disgraced baseball superstars. But if one were to approach Melky Cabrera and ask him -- or perhaps Tweet him, "It ain't true, is it?" -- the Melk Man's response would be eerily similar.
In the wake of a 50-game suspension, which would carry five games into the playoffs if the Giants manage to make it that far in Cabrera's absence, the All-Star outfielder released the following statement: "My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension ... and will try to move on with my life."
In other words, his suspension for banned substances was the result of his use of banned substances. This is akin to excusing your tardiness by explaining that you arrived late because you left late. It's refreshing to see a star player accept responsibility for a positive drug test and not concoct ridiculous stories about unknowingly ingesting performance-enhancing substances and gaining 30 pounds of muscle or wiggling free on a technicality (though Cabrera was elusive before he was straightforward).
If you have a vested interest in the doings of the San Francisco Giants, Cabrera's forthright mea culpa is about the only silver lining to find in today's news -- other than the fact this didn't involve Buster Posey, the one indispensable Giant and the young face of the franchise.
But that's where the fun stops. Had Cabrera been shelved with an injury -- as Posey was last year -- that, too, would have taken the wind out of the Giants' sails and rendered reaching the postseason extraordinarily difficult. But a drug suspension of the team's standout player throws its fan base into the midst of a psychological minefield. For years, all but the most chauvinistic of Giants supporters turned a willful blind eye to the obvious drug use taking place in the vicinity of 24 Willie Mays Plaza. Yes, steroids were a league-wide problem -- Ken Caminiti essentially 'roided himself to death, for God's sake. But San Francisco's steroidal stars were bigger than their steroidal stars. And better.
With the departure of Barry Lamar Bonds, the team that employed and enabled him for many years in turn wiped him off the stadium decor much as Winston Smith edited blacklisted politicos out of archival footage in his post at the Ministry of Truth. After several dark seasons, Giants fans were rewarded with a team full of likable, eccentric, approachable stars who, improbably, did what the surly, plodding, superhumans could not and captured the World Series.
This year's Giants squad wasn't as self-consciously bizarre as the 2010 edition, but the pieces were there. Getting Cabrera in exchange for Jonathan Sanchez -- about as close to a trade involving three magic beans as you're going to find in real life -- was working out to be one of the team's greatest acquisitions in its history. The Giants were young, likable, and poised for success. So, today's news is more than just disappointing. It conjures up ugly memories and feels like a recurrence of some horrid disease after a period of delightful remission.
Many on the Internet unloaded their vitriol on Cabrera, labeling him an idiot -- or worse. Indeed, he may have cost himself a metric shitload of money on the open market. But, as always, these kinds of news stories reveal that we have met the idiot -- and he is us. When you invest an irrational amount of time and energy and hope into this business of putting on professional sports contests for profit -- when you make this part of your very personality -- then you're the idiot for forgetting what the bottom line is. You can still love baseball without being naive. But, we'll admit, it's not as much fun. News like today's makes you feel like a sucker for caring.