It Disgusts Me

When I think of Lou Gehrig, I see him in a hotel room somewhere in the summer of 1938. It is the middle of the night, nearly silent, sweltering in Cleveland or St. Louis or Washington. If there is any air conditioning it is feeble and no match for humidity sitting like a giant sweater on the city.

The pain has been growing, almost imperceptibly, for months, maybe years. Worse still his inability to make his body do what he wants it to do has deteriorated. The discomfort may have awakened him, but it’s something else that has caused him to reach for the alarm clock, and instead knock it to the floor with a sour ring. This may have been begun years earlier – his eventual successor Babe Dahlgren told me he was playing first for the Red Sox in 1935 when Gehrig rounded the bag, slipped, and just could not steady himself to stand up.
He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and it will be months more of pain, and confusion, and fear, and denial, and dread, before he has even heard the phrase. And then the world will close in on him: in March, 1939, he will stagger through spring training. In May he will take himself out of the lineup. Weeks later he will be at the Mayo Clinic. In July he will be honored at Yankee Stadium and initially be asked not to speak to the heartbroken crowd, for fear that just the sound of his words, his acknowledgment of what is so terribly wrong, will reduce 60,000 people to tears. By the following spring, working for the underprivileged and troubled youth of New York City, he will pose, smiling, at an office desk. Only later will it be revealed that the pencil he holds had to be placed there, and his fist closed around it, by somebody else’s hand. Barely two years after the diagnosis, exactly 16 years after his legendary streak began, it will all end.
And yet in the Bronx 70 years ago today, Lou Gehrig composed himself in such a manner, with a strength that eclipsed even what he showed on the ballfields of the ’20s and ’30s, that he could give one final measure of himself with such honesty, with such courage, with such a simple and direct connection to the human condition, that it is quoted, somewhere, every day.
And when those who have followed him in the game he loves, honor him, and this country, and themselves, by having those words read in every ballpark in the major leagues on this 4th of July, they emphasize all that is good and brave, despite the unbeatable odds and ultimate “bad break” we all face eventually, about the game, about the nation, about life itself.
But first, let’s take you out to San Diego where Manny Ramirez is just back from a 50-game suspension. For cheating. For cutting corners. For breaking rules. For lying. For deception. For letting down his teammates. For contributing to suspicions against every honest player. For raising a giant middle finger to sportsmanship. For abusing the fans. For risking that for which Lou Gehrig would’ve given anything – his own health.
Ramirez, of course, homered today in his first at bat. And some people cheered. As if he were just back from an injury, or a death in the family. As if he were a hero. As if he were an honest man. As if he were somehow worthy of sharing the meaningfulness of this day with Lou Gehrig.
Credit to Fox’s Tim McCarver – who has never gotten enough of it for this one quality he has shown, often at such great risk to his own security and even employment – for his honesty in pointing out the inappropriateness of the reaction to Ramirez’s return. He is not making a comeback. He is out on parole and it will be years – if ever – before many of us will believe he did not do something illegal, improper, or immoral, this morning.

And shame on the broadcasters who decided to treat Ramirez’s return as if it were something to be trumpeted, rather than what it is – something to be ashamed of. This trumpeting is barely about Manny Ramirez – this applies to McGwire and Bonds and Palmeiro and Rodriguez and all the rest, caught or admitted.
This is Lou Gehrig’s day. The rest of the juicers may come back and play tomorrow and there will not be boycotts. The Dodgers will probably go to the World Series, carried in part by a great flaming fraud like Ramirez. And judging by the brainless response of fans who would cheer anybody if they hit the ball 425 feet for their team, and boo anybody if they hit the ball 425 feet for their opponents, there will not even be significant repercussions. 
But today, there should have been. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez and the others of the PED era did not belong in baseball today, and that they did not show the requisite awareness of their own shame, only makes it worse. Lord, send us a ‘roider who has the presence of mind to say: “On this day I do my penance; I don’t yet belong on the field even with just the memory of this man, I hope you’ll forgive me and I can again earn your trust.”


  1. hartbreak

    Thank you for the reminder. To dismiss or even justify steroid use because it has become a common part of the “new” atmosphere is lazy. This was very moving; keep giving ’em hell, Olbermann.


    And Fox, bless their hearts, is breaking away from the Mets-Phillies game for every Manny AB, and showed, on tape delay, a small bit of Chris Coste reading Gehrig’s speech before the game.

  3. ptldfan

    I’m a third generation Dodger fan and it made me sick to my stomach when the Dodger’s acquired Manny. That was before the PEDs, but after his bizarre behavior in Boston, including the attack on the, I think, traveling secretary.

    I still love the Dodgers, but I don’t wish Manny well, and if that means LA doesn’t get to the playoffs, well, that’s the price of dancing with the devil.

    Thanks for the contrast with Lou Gehrig.


    Thanks Keith……I miss the days when Baseball players had the spirit of the game rushing through their veins……They would have played for nothing. (and often times did!)
    These days, it is hard for me to get excited about any particular team winning or losing…..I watch, because I love the game SO much, I can’t help myself. Thanks for being brave and bold and telling it like it is!

  5. Fenway Bleacher Creature

    Great job Keith! I agree all the way. That was beautiful writing and a great job summing up something I believe as well.
    Rest in Peace, Lou.

  6. justanothercoed

    I think there should be a no tolerance policy on PEDs in ALL sports. As an endurance athlete, I currently train 3 1/2 hours a day 6 days a week (and I’m in my off season!). When I am training for an event I bump it up to 4-8 hours a day 6-7 days a week. It would be a heck of a lot easier and a hell of a lot less painful to stick a needle in my *** and train only a few hours a day for an event (and there are a lot of people who do, especially young female athletes, who are never caught) but I love myself way to much to do that crap. After all, I may not win the race but I go home afterward, go to bed, and wake up the next day ready to start training for the next event. Juicers go home, beat the crap out of anyone around, and wake up the next morning to find they are now a classic carnival side show…the bearded lady! To me people like Manny and A-Rod are not athletes, just poseurs out for a pretty penny and some photo ops.

  7. jimmyjarhead

    A very true and elegant post today. I think of my son’s best friend , a corporal in my beloved Marine Corps, on a ship in the Gulf, and of my friend’s son, a paratrooper getting ready to go back to Afghanistan. (again, after having been wounded there once) I also remember my time with the 70-71 Spokane Indians:Tom Lasorda, Paciorek,Lopes,Garvey Cey, Russell, Von Joshua, Bobby V. and all the other great ball players, and especially Dodgers, of my youth.
    So now we have this clown, this knucklehead, who is now a Dodger, and he’s getting all this ink and TV time, and I’m a little sick to my stomach.

  8. 1948braves

    Your article brought tears to my eyes.

    I have read so many biographies about athletes throughout my life, I have lost count. All I know is the very first one I ever read was a biography about Lou Gehrig, way back when I was 15 years old. May we never forget how lucky we were to have had a baseball player and man like Lou Gehrig to look up to. The very essence of dignity and class.

    “There is no room for discrimination in baseball. It is our national pastime, and a game for all.” Lou Gehrig


    Keith, I’m a cancer survivor. I can assure that the first thing these diseases rob us of is our dignity. I had to stand in front of my wife, with excrement running down my legs admitting that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. We spend years at the mercy of a stream of doctors and other health care professionals. We become a case, not a person.

    That being said, what we go through has nothing to do with idiots like Manny Ramirez. Put all the patches on uniforms you want. Hold fund raisers and telethons. It all comes down to a doctor and a patient in a small room, with the doctor given the bad news and the patient either surrendering or resolving to fight. Critical illness is perhaps the most solitary battle a person can face. We are alone, in a way most people cannot fathom, since our own bodies have betrayed us.

    So Manny hit a homer. Who cares? He’s a proven cheater. People like me don;’t let morons like him distract us from the sheer glory that is seeing another day. I’m almost 14 years past my diagnosis; and I bloody well *refuse* to die until my beloved Giants win the World Series.

    Today, I am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I went to see a baseball game.


    In a world filled with sportscasters and fans who worship sports stars, no matter what they do wrong, it is refreshing to see someone finally speak out against those who think the rules don’t apply to them.

    Shining the light of Lou Gehrig’s bravery into the faces of such cheaters should, by rights, make them scurry away in shame, like roaches under the glare of an overhead light. But sadly, people like this seem to be unable to feel shame. What little regret they do feel is solely the regret of getting caught.

    Your compassion, sense of decency, and outrage shine in every word of this moving article. Thank you for not letting your love of this game blind you to the sins committed by some of its players.


    We are all humbled by your perfection. But being so dang perfect how about you spare us some of your smugness and notice that Manny isn’t as good as you (point of your blog post, right?). And shut up. If I wanted to read Costas, I’d uh read Costas. Yeah we get it, things were better when you did whatever it was you did when things were better. Was it throwing games Denny, or coke?

    So one-note tiresome, should be your nickname.

  12. jessel

    This amazes me. How can a man who is such horse’s *** and display such a contempt for the truth when it comes to his politics and MSNBC commentary, be so correct and dead on when it comes to baseball, especially Manny. It is amazing, but when you are right you are right. And I am a Dodgers fan.


    A-friggin-men KO. It was Lou Gehrig’s day damn it.

    For raising a giant middle finger to sportsmanship. ~ There are lots of reasons for why cheering Manny’s return is wrong, but that one really stands out for me.

  14. cardsrul52

    I agree wholeheartedly with your take on this being Gehrig’s day. The whole dichotomy of celebrating Manny’s minor league “tour”, and subsequent return, while throwing other players who have tested positive under the bus, is what irks me more than anything. I even heard Peter Gammons pull out the old(and tired) “it’s just Manny being Manny” phrase. I just don’t understand.

  15. hartbreak

    Well sure, scareduck, if most people are ok with it it must not be wrong. That’s the laziest argument I’ve ever heard.

  16. trapp76

    Manny did the crime, but he has served his time. Unlike A-Rod, Bonds, McGwire, etc………………….Manny served his punishment. Now he is back and Dodger fans are happy to see him back.

    People mess up in life……..nobody is perfect. If somebody makes a mistake and PAYS FOR THAT MISTAKE, then I have no problem with it.

    As a christian, forgiveness is one of the core principles at the center of my life………….as is humility. We should always remember that at one time or another in life………YOU will mess up and you will need forgiveness from others as well. Yes, Manny messed up, but he served the punishment like a man and now he’s back to help his team. I gladly root for him and don’t lose any sleep at night doing so.

    Its only baseball for god’s sake………..there are people dying in unjust wars and people suffering all over this country from a broken health care system and a broken economy……….lets all get some perspective here and focus our anger on where it really needs to be.


    I am a cancer patient with 3 operations and 2 1/2 years in chemo. I had a best friend die of ALS at the age of 36. The pain, suffering, and declining use of her limbs makes my past 3 years look like a walk in the park. I am not a Keith Olberman – MSNBC fan, but the man who wrote this article has my complete respect. And like Dberry, I spent Friday and Sunday at a ballgame. I watched the Dodgers and Manny beat my Padres both games. I was at the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 and World Series for the Pads in 84 and 98. None of these ended in victory, but I was a happy man just watching the games.

  18. scareduck

    hartbreak — no, that’s not the laziest argument available. The laziest argument out there is to lie, which is what the government does repeatedly about any kind of drugs they don’t approve of, the list of which changes but grows ever-larger.

  19. bagg44


    “We’re dirtbags, like 99 percent of the world.
    Maybe worse, because we are baseball players.”
    — Rockies 1B Todd Helton

    “Corked bat, steroids and I bet on games. ”
    –Braves 2B Marcus Giles on why he has so much success against the Reds

    “This is the first time in baseball history the players have more additives in them than the hot dogs.”
    –Jay Leno
    “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player.
    It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”
    –Casey Stengel

    “I only have a high school education, and I had to cheat to get that.”
    -Sparky Anderson
    “Ten million years from now, when the sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen ice ball hurtling through space, nobody’s going to care whether or not I got this guy out.”
    –Tug McGraw

    “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
    –Mickey Mantle

  20. twelvepackaday

    Outrage over major sports professionals, especially baseball, jumped the shark for me back in 1994. I have as much fondness for baseball as any person. My fondness is now directed towards my local single A team. I have no disgust left for the disgusting. The only way to avoid scum and cheaters is to, well, avoid them. The only way to not be disgusted is to just be done with it. I don’t like it that major league baseball has dirtied itself beyond the ability to be laundered clean. I decided 15 years ago that I can’t do anything about it. The baseball legends suffer from the dirt too. Life isn’t fair. I’ve moved on. Keith tries to live in the dirty world and the clean world of baseball by attempting to launder the dirt. It can’t be done. Keith is disgusted and writes about it therefore attempting to absolve himself when Keith is part of the problem to begin with. Print, radio, TV, and the internet provide the void which the fat heads can expand in to. I assume Ramirez has notoriety because he is often noted. I don’t know much about him and assume that he was not in the majors prior to 1994. The media is almost exclusively negative story driven, hence the scum and cheaters are given ink, air time, and bandwidth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s