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Sports Then and Now

Jason Grilli Shares Thoughts on Crying In Baseball Following McGwire Admission

Posted on January 13, 2010 by Todd Civin

52431735MW018_BASEBALL_STARAlthough Jimmy Dugan told me, “There’s no crying in baseball” I didn’t listen the other day. I cried a lot. So did Mark McGwire. Only the difference between me and Mark McGwire is that we cried for two different reasons.

McGwire cried because he had painted himself into the proverbial corner. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His lie had taken on a life of it’s own and gnawed into his belly each and every day since…well, since Tony LaRussa offered him a job as hitting coach.

His tears were contrived. His tears were the creation of some Spin City PR guy who told him that in this case, you can cry in baseball.

My tears were spontaneous tears. Real tears. Tears that I have no shame in showing the baseball world.

You see, there’s a little boy in all of us, that keeps on getting a scab picked off of our knee every time it starts to heal. Somehow, we stumble on life’s sidewalk and keep on managing to scrape skin against concrete in the exact same place. And it hurts.

Each time the grass begins to grow on that spot in left field where the fielder plays, some bully decides to tear it up again. One day it’s a shade of newborn green and the next day it’s stiff and brown.

We put on our uniform, crisp and white, to start each season and before we cross the lines again, we find it stained with a spot of brown right where the letters cross our chest.

Because Mark McGwire didn’t tell us something we didn’t already know. He told us something that the little boy inside of us wanted to forget.

I like to believe though that for every Mark McGwire in the game there’s a Jason Grilli and a Sal Fasano. A Derek Jeter and a Evan Longoria. That the good guys will eventually win over evil and allow that cut on my knee to fully scab over.

When news of McGwire’s admission began pre-empting ESPN’s Top Plays on Monday, I called one of the good guys to see if he was hurting as bad as I was.

Jason Grilli and I have become friends. When he’s not preparing for his upcoming season with the Cleveland Indians, he and I work on his blog together which touts the virtues of his business, Perfect Pitch Marketing.

Grilli is one of the most level headed and hardworking men I’ve ever met and when not honing his craft he is always preparing for life after baseball.

I asked Grilli to share his thoughts with me. Not to squeal on his brothers, something he wouldn’t do and I wouldn’t ask. I simply wanted to know if the little boy in him was hurting as bad as it was in me.

After we laid some ground rules regarding the do’s and the dont’s of our conversation, he was willing to share his thoughts and the need to leave this era in baseball’s rear view mirror.
TC: As a player, I assume you are frustrated that this happened. Where does your frustration lie, with the taking of the steroids or the admission by McGwire?

Grilli: I’m frustrated about the steroids and the whole steroid controversy. But it  happened and there is nothing that can be done to change that. It’s a fact that we keep on reminding ourselves of with regularity. A fact that just won’t be allowed to go away. The carbon footprint has been left in the ground and nothing we do will make it disappear. What we need to do is search out the beauty of today’s game.

Each time we try to escape this mess and move forward, we are forced to revisit it time and time again. It will keep on happening until the numbers put up by the poster boys from this era are surpassed and new superstars emerge.  I love this game with a passion. I was taught to love and respect it by my father. I really just wish I could have played in an era when everyone truly felt the same.

TC: How do you feel your career was affected by your  decision to remain steroid-free?

Grilli: My career suffered as a whole and there are parts of me that would have liked to have taken steroids to avoid two and a half years of missed time due to surgery. Not to enhance my game but to recover from injury. But there are those, like myself and the Sal Fasanos of the world who chose “the road less traveled” approach. And of course I don’t regret it.

The way I was brought up, cheating is cheating and whether in baseball or in business, what goes around comes around. If you cheat in baseball or business or life at some point you are going to have to answer for your actions. McGwire had to answer to his choices yesterday. Baseball will continue to have to answer.

TC: Who is the victim in this tragedy; you, the fans or the game itself?

Grilli: I certainly don’t consider myself to be a victim. I am blessed to play the game of baseball. I remind myself that every single day. Maybe sucker is a more accurate word. Ha, ha. I guess there are two sides to this. I’m the sucker for not having a larger bank account possibly, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself for defaming my family name or for having to explain to my son that I cheat to win.

But also, the fans are the suckers because some feel they were lied to while others decided to look the other way just as baseball did. Because baseball was making money and people were witnessing things that they believed they would be able to tell their children as history was being made, they chose to turn a blind eye on the subject.

It’s a lot like believing in the tooth fairy. You assume no one really pays you for losing your teeth, but don’t want to research it too deeply or she’ll stop leaving money under your pillow. This is sort of the same. Fans knew, but didn’t want to stop believing.

TC: What do you say to people who claim there was nothing wrong with taking steroids since everyone was doing it?

McGuireGrilli: Just as Adam took the apple, this falls no shorter than that mistake because it morally isn’t right to take performance enhancing drugs. Many will argue that they were not illegal or policed by baseball and therefore there was no crime committed.  Steroids are an illegal drug that can be purchased on the black market.  As soon as there is testing for one drug, some chemist will defy the system by creating another enhancer that will be undetectable.

TC: Do you think the fans are partially to blame for the creation of these super heroes?

Grilli: No the fans are definitely not to blame, but they must realize that cheating is cheating. Just because they are spectators of their favorite athlete, they feel seem to feel they now have a right to blast McGwire.

Pointing the finger in our society has gotten to be the norm. There is this infatuation with building up our heroes to be larger than life and then pointing and laughing when they falter before our eyes.

Until you are put in the same position of many of these players you really can’t be too critical. Ask yourself honestly, “Would you have done it?” Look yourself in the mirror and draw the road map of the sliding doors in your life. Which path would you choose?

Alice in Wonderland & The Matrix are portrayals of the same dilemma. These story-lines come to life in one form or another over and over and are continually re-scripted. The lesson is as old as life itself.

TC: As a fan and a player of the game do you forgive McGwire?

Grilli: What bothers me is the timing of McGwire’s admission. Didn’t our mother’s tell us when we were younger that once you say something you can’t take it back. All of a sudden he wants to be forgiven after he had the chance to come clean the first time. I believe in second chances, but you must err on the side of caution when dealing with people who suddenly are willing to admit their mistakes.  To answer the question, sure I can forgive him.  He is human, but it what makes me feel great about my career is what I have been able to accomplish despite the choices of others.

Let me make it clear though, I’m sure McGwire is a great guy and a wonderful teammate. He just made the wrong choice. I hope he and his family can move forward now.  I also hope that he will use his position to mentor other players since he is going to be a coach. Hopefully his students will give him the respect he desires. I hope and pray that he uses his second chance to the fullest.

So tell Jimmy Dugan that he was wrong. There is crying in baseball, but at some point you need to wipe away the tears, and play the game again.

Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for Bleacher Report, Seamheads and Sports, Then and Now. His top stories can be found on his own blog at The ‘xoxo’ of Sports. He and Jason Grilli are also supporters of A Glove of Their Own, the award winning children’s book that teaches kindness through baseball. Visit the site and purchase the book using today’s donor code RMD 281, The Rocky Mountain Deaf School.

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