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This past October 7th during the American League Division Series Roger Clemens stood on the pitcher

 No Fountain of Youth: Pushing Our Mortal Limits to the Breaking Point

   This past October 7th during the American League Division Series Roger Clemens stood on the pitcher's mound in living color on my TV set.  I could be heard to exclaim, "Look at that thick torso: Roger's an old man!"  Well, yes, 45 and still playing hard ball in the big leagues.  When a hamstring gave out on him, and he never returned and will very likely not be allowed to return now that former Senator and investigator George Mitchell has delivered his report on steroids in Major League Baseball, implicating the "Rocket" from Texas. 

    We have witnessed the enhancements and the ravages of anabolic steroids on athletes.  Lithe and slender Barry Bonds bulks into a linebacker and pumps record homeruns into San Francisco Bay.  Mark McGwire, always muscular but now gargantuan, on an unforgettable night in Boston before the All Star Game in the homerun contest hits one spectacular fly after another into and over the Green Monster; and retires a year and a half later suffering assorted aches and strains. Ken Caminiti, drug and steroid abuser, stand-out slugger for several seasons for the Houston Astros, dies of an overdose.  Or Atlanta pitcher and loose cannon, John Rocker, whose alleged use of steroids would go a long way toward explaining his readiness to explode at the slightest provocation.   

    Well, you've read the reports and listened to the talking heads on TV chew this issue over again and again.  I'm just a sports buff who cannot add much expertise to the discussion. Nonetheless (fools rush in...) I make bold to enter the fray having recently read an op-ed piece on the subject in The New York Times, written by a couple of professors, one from Columbia and the other from the University of Chicago.  The gist of their argument is that steroids have made no statistical difference in the performance of the players accused.  But the academics offer this caveat: "It is possible (but not addressable by these data) that one effect of drugs is to help players compensate for decline as they age, and thus to extend their careers."NB

    There it is, the pact with the devil. See Genesis 3, especially the verse with which the serpent clinches the argument for eating the forbidden fruit, that, once bitten, it will make mortals like God and they shall not die. 

    Just so, I add a rueful commentary on our humanity, big league, bush league, and didn't-even-play Little League. The philosophically inclined picture the game as an analogy for life, only more clear-cut with beginnings and endings, winners and losers (always hard to tell in the real world).  Sports, in other words, imitate life.  But the steroid crisis suggests sports also imitate art.

    This hunger for immortality, or, at least, a prolongation of youth, owes more to Peter Pan than to Ponce de Leon, more to Count Dracula than to Daniel Webster.  

    Or how about Dorian Gray, as in "The Picture of Dorian Gray"?  Oscar Wilde's novel about a handsome man who refused to grow old, until he did, with one slash at the canvas portrait reflecting his true age?  The longing to stay on the field and in the game is a temptation far more alluring than a grand old seniority filled with Old Timers games and one wonderful weekend a year in Cooperstown signing baseballs and bats.

    And "Lost Horizons," the book and the movie about Shangri-La: I saw the movie on the big screen at the Palace Theatre in Stamford CT when I was a young thing.  You can see the scene, etched into my brain in the late 1930's, by accessing it on You Tube: Lost Horizons Clip.  The secret of the Asian Eden is that there time stands still.  One never ages; but once Shangri-La is left the real chronological age returns.  Hence the 20 year old (actress Margo) wizens and dies in a matter of minutes in the clip.

   Many budding professional ballplayers longing for glory (and big bucks) are more than willing to strike that bargain with the devil, counting on a diamond-shaped Shangri-La.  I read during the run-up to an Olympiad that a sampling of competitors showed that most would gladly shorten their lifespan several years if it would guarantee a gold medal.  Of course, the young seem all too willing to sacrifice later time for present fulfillment.  Until that later time arrives when the devil's price must be paid and second thoughts rise as bulging muscles turn brittle, sinews rip, and pitchers' tempers explode when their strike is called a ball. 

    How sad, if instructive, it is when it's played out in full public view on the mound at Yankee Stadium in front of ten million viewers.

    There are better ways - you can probably guess what I think they are - to attain immortality.

NB The New York Times, Friday, December 22, 2007.    





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