"Above all, the story of Willie Mays reminds us of a time when the only performance-enhancing drug was joy." So sayeth the great Pete Hamill, who is proof that baseball makes even brilliant writers sound like a Wonder Years voiceover.
The line closes Hamill's review of James S. Hirsch's Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend. There are a lot of problems with the above sentiment, not least of which is that baseball players were full of a lot more than just joy in the 1960s. Joe Posnanski mentions amphetamines, and he also notes:
Baseball in Willie Mays time, like baseball in every time, was rife with cheating and racism and alcoholism and small-mindedness. You know, people love to talk about the players of the steroid era cheating the game. But did anyone in baseball history more willfully and brashly cheat the game than Leo Durocher*and the 1951 Giants, who rigged an elaborate sign-stealing system that undoubtedly helped the Giants catch the Dodgers and win the pennant, win the pennant, win the pennant.
*Pete Hammil [sic] loves Hirsch's "delightfully raffish" portrait of Durocher in the Mays book. I wonder if there's a way to make Barry Bonds sound delightfully raffish.
In Hirsch's book, Mays explains away this organized and premeditated bit of cheating by saying that stealing signs was "always part of the game — everyone did it." And that if he did steal signs that "they sure didn't help me."
Everyone did it. The cheating didn't help me. Wow, does that sound familiar?
It's too bad. Hirsch has written what seems like a pretty good book that will only serve as another excuse for baby boomers to yammer about their innocence again. Batter up, Doris Kearns Goodwin!