Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has had his hands full going after PED users. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
The kid was wearing a cloth cap and a tearful look as he approached the baseball star.
“Say it ain’t so, Joe!” said the boy.
And Shoeless Joe Jackson, a ballplayer for all the ages, shook his had sadly at the lad’s grief.
That is the way this tragic story from baseball history has been told for nearly a century now.
Joe Jackson and seven of his teammates had been barred forever from playing Major League Baseball by the commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. They had been accused of being bought off by gamblers and throwing the 1919 World Series between the White Sox and Reds.
Part of the Say-It-Ain’t-So-Joe story might be myth — who knows? — but too much of it is true.
The sport of baseball has been smirched ever since by the Black Sox scandal.
At the time, Joe Jackson was as vital to baseball — and the sport that fascinated America in the years after World War I — as Babe Ruth. Jackson’s hitting was legendary. He batted .375 in that World Series against the Reds — and history alleges he was trying to lose.
Joe Jackson was not voted into the Hall of Fame when his contemporaries — Ruth, Ty Cobb, George Sisler, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, those magnificent names — were elected.
Shoeless Joe — banished from baseball, and barred into perpetuity from being elected to the Hall of Fame.
It was then — not now — that baseball surrendered its innocence.
That is the tragedy of baseball scandal — if a sport could possibly ever be afflicted with damage as painful as true tragedy.
Game's just not the same
Just think, this was the way it is supposed to be:
A dad, one of millions through the ages, whispered to his kid, also one of millions, “Baseball is such a simple sport.
“The batter gets on base and the next batters try to push him around. They try to score runs. They get enough of those runs, their team wins. The guy on the other team who throws the balls, the pitcher, he tries to get the batter from getting on base. The pitcher tries to keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can do that, his team wins, All those guys around the field, they try to catch the ball to help the pitcher.
“See, a simple game.”
My dad taught that to me when I was 8. That was a very long time ago. He had loved to game of baseball as a boy, and I quickly began to love it, too.
I taught that to my daughter. Baseball is a simple game of passages — father to son. Son then to daughter.
So compelling in its simplicity, a game that connects one generation to the next. And when we were young, we believed baseball translated into innocence.
Yet a game so ripe for scandal.
It is not known this weekend when the latest bomb will explode. Monday, maybe.
And I cannot state among all my multitudes of pot-shots whether commissioner Bud Selig fantasizes that he is the very reincarnation of Kenesaw Mountain Landis. I have no idea if Selig has a picture of the austere judge on his office wall.
But Selig is stuck with a scandal that is smearing baseball again, a scandal Judge Landis would have handled with aplomb.
A death rattle has been afflicting this game for weeks now.
Will Commissioner Selig turn Alex Rodriguez into a 21st century version of Shoeless Joe Jackson?
We know something is going to happen.
Ryan Braun already is gone for the rest of this season, a 65-game suspension — really a temporary banishment.
Braun, obviously, was Selig’s pet target for a suspension. In February 2012, Braun beat Selig and his establishment on a test for artificial testosterone. There was a technicality, the specimen was delayed en route to the laboratory. Braun was found innocent — that word again — on appeal.
Selig and his minions were livid. So livid that Major League Baseball fired the lead arbitrator who ruled in favor of Braun.
It is now documented that Braun turned himself into a serial liar. He fooled his Milwaukee teammates, his colleagues, his friends and athletes in other sports in his impassioned denials that he used performance enhancing drugs.
In all the years I have been covering this sports nonsense, I have never heard an athlete so vilified by fellow athletes. Max Scherzer, the Tigers’ All-Star pitcher, was outspoken in his condemnation.
“When you intentionally cheat the game using PEDs, this punishment doesn’t fit the crime yet,” Scherzer told reporters. “Because of how brash he was against MLB, that’s why there is so much outrage against him.”
Aaron Rodgers, Braun’s close friend, business associate and NFL All-Pro quarterback north of Milwaukee in Green Bay, spoke publicly to the media of mistrust.
“He looked me in the eye on multiple occasions and repeatedly denied these allegations and said they were not true,” Rodgers told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal in a comment relayed by NBC’s Pro Football Talk.
At least that stuff is on the record, spoken by real people.
But what he have had for much too long is:
“Sources say that other sources who have not been authorized to speak on the subject told them that — hush, hush.”
For the past several days, there have been news stories that Selig is threatening to banish Rodriguez from baseball forever —history repeats itself.
It has been a journalism carousel among the mania-stream media.
Even a news outlet as legitimate and respected as the Associated Press has come up with nameless sources, the not-authorized-to-speak dodge employed by less worthy news outlets.
“Friday could be D-Day for Major League Baseball’s drug investigation,” the hallowed AP reported on its wires last Wednesday. “Suspensions could stretch out the rest of this week and delay announcements, two people familiar with the talks said Tuesday.”
Friday passed by — and now well, the reports are Selig will deliver his suspensions Monday.
As the last several days blurred past us, Rodriguez was trailed from minor league ballpark to minor league ballpark by a corps of journalists while he was on injury rehabilitation from the Yankees.
It’s going to happen. Sources have told other sources Selig is considering a lifetime banishment for A Rod — if there is no confession and no deal. I read it on The AP.
The Tigers obviously were aware that they might not have the services of Jhonny Peralta during the stretch of the pennant race. So they made a dangerous insurance trade to get Jose Iglesias to play shortstop. Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager, was part of a late-deadline, three-club trade Wednesday night. To obtain Iglesias, the Tigers had to give up Avisail Garcia, their No. 2 prize prospect in their farm system.
History repeated? Plenty of grizzled souls still grouse about the Tigers giving up young John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, who would pitch the team to a half-pennant in 1987.
Baseball's latest scandal
Baseball, my everlasting love, has become piteous in its efforts to cleanse the strain of steroids and performance-enhancing junk. The game was late in starting a drugs-violation program. Those who cheer Selig now ignore the fact MLB did not have a drug policy until 2003.
And to nail Braun and Rodriguez and the other alleged culprits, Selig had to turn to the a wonderful baseball-loving character. His name is Anthony Bosch, who operated Biogenisis, an anti-aging clinic in South Florida.
In essence, Bosch was a drug dealer. Major League Baseball cut a deal with him after early denials. The story was broken last January — Super Bowl week — by the Miami New Times, an alternative newspaper. And an actual human being delivered Bosch’s statement back then.
“Mr. Bosch vehemently denies the assertion that MLB players such as Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez were treated by or associated with him,” said Susy Ribero-Ayala, identified as Bosch’s attorney.
The statement was reported by the AP last Jan. 30.
In June, under pressure from MLB, Bosch agreed to turn stool-pigeon for Bud Selig. And Baseball agreed not to discontinue with litigation against Bosch. It has been all over the Internet — and that’s where my sources hide out.
Evidence MLB now has shows that Braun, Rodriguez, likely Peralta, Nelson Cruz and several others were patrons of Biogenisis. That is according to sources familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly — and therefore consigned to anonymity.
Cheating stinks — and ballplayers who cannot pass the standard pee test are cheaters. They cheated to win and they deserve serious punishment.
But there is something stinking, too, about Major League Baseball working in cahoots with a guy who used to deal drugs and is somewhat lacking in credibility.
Say it ain’t so, but it is.
Sorry to knock old Bud again, but he ain’t quite the reincarnation of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.