I HAD A DREAM the other night, and Roger Maris and Babe Ruth appeared to me. Weird, huh? Other than the corn silk on their clothes, they looked pretty good, but they were cranky and tired after the long trip from Iowa.
"So, sports writer," The Babe began, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, "I guess it's really going to happen. This Big Mac character is going to break my home-run record.""You mean MY home run record," Maris corrected him. "Remember, you hit 60, I hit 61. Last time I checked, 61 was more than 60."
"Don't start that again. You had a longer season. You played. . . ."
"Keep that up, and you're a dead man."
"I AM a dead man."
"Gentlemen," I interrupted. "Both of your records are history. Face it. Mark McGwire has 60 home runs with 20 games to go, and Sammy Sosa has 58. There's a virtual crowd ready to break your records. Look on the bright side, Mr. Maris, your record lasted 37 years, and, Mr. Ruth, yours lasted 71. We had to wait a long time for this moment, and it's a big deal. The whole country is caught up in it."
"Yeah, that and the business with that Lewinsky broad," the Babe laughed, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Oh, you heard. Anyway, you guys remember what it was like in '27 and '61. It's like Lindy crossing the Atlantic, Bannister breaking four minutes, Hillary scaling Everest. It's another barrier broken."
"Ah, let 'em have it," said Maris, hawking a loogie into the garbage can. "Whoopdidoo. I'm surprised it lasted this long. But it isn't fair."
"This guy's taking that stuff - andro-somethingorother."
I was hoping he hadn't heard. McGwire has admitted that he takes androstenedione, a performance-enhancing substance that causes the body to produce more testosterone.
"When I played, the strongest thing I put in my body was coffee, black," said Maris.
"Well, I put something a little stronger than that into my pie hole," said The Babe with a wink, "but it didn't exactly enhance my performance."
"Look," the Babe began, deadly (pardon the pun) serious now. "I know the kid's good. He's got a quick bat and obvious power, and he's lifted weights and worked hard. But he also did it with this andro junk."
It's legal, I explained, playing the devil's advocate for Mac, since he wasn't there to defend himself. It's even sold over the counter. Major League Baseball doesn't ban it.
"But I have to admit there is something about it that doesn't feel right," I said.
"He claims the drug isn't the reason he hits home runs," said Maris, "but that's not completely right. It's the reason he hits some of his home runs. He hit 49 and 52 home runs without the stuff; he hit 58 and 60 the last two seasons with the stuff. Figure it out for yourself. If it didn't help him hit home runs, he wouldn't take it."
"Shoot, if I'd taken andro, I woulda hit 75 dingers," said The Babe.
"If you'd gone to bed on time you woulda hit 75 dingers," said Maris. "If you had lifted weights, or given up the booze and broads, we're lookin' at 80, easy."
"Thank you, Rog. What he said."
"Not at all, Babe."
"If this andro stuff is so harmless," The Babe continued, leaning back on his elbows, "then why is it banned by the NFL, pro tennis, the Olympics and the NCAA? I saw where that fellow Randy Barnes, the Olympic shot put champion, was suspended for taking andro. And just a little while ago the NFL suspended the Pittsburgh Steelers' Paul Wiggins for a few games for the same thing."
I had to agree with The Babe, especially since he is much bigger than I am.
"It does seem like they're splitting hairs," I said.
"Look," the Babe continued, "the only reason the stuff isn't illegal or banned by baseball is because of a technical oversight. Andro is not an anabolic steroid, but they do the same thing - raise the level of testosterone in the body."
It was clear The Babe had studied this matter ("I have a lot of free time," he explained. "You know, no vices allowed and all.").
"Andro hasn't been proven dangerous," I agreed, "but it hasn't been proven harmless either, because no one has performed long-term studies on it. They used to think anabolic steroids were harmless, too, until people started dropping dead - uh, sorry. We do know that excessive levels of testosterone over a long period of time causes liver and heart disease. But it also enables athletes to add muscle and strength. The East Germans included andro in their infamous performance-enhancing drug program of the '60s and '70s."
"That stuff gave Big Mac a competitive advantage, as far as I'm concerned," Maris said. "He might as well have hit with one of those metal bats."
"These days, the best man doesn't win or get the record; the best man is the one with the best pharmaceutical program," grumped Ruth, getting up to leave.
"In my book, if you've got to get it out of a bottle, and it's not vitamins or aspirin, it should be banned," said Maris, as they headed toward the door.
"Well, better be going now," said The Babe. "Just point the way to the nearest cornfield for us."
"Will you watch?" I asked.
"What, Big Andro? Oh, yeah. We've got reserve seats - in nosebleed heaven."