Won’t somebody think of the children?

There was a story on NPR last night about a man trying to reconcile his young son’s love of baseball and the steroid era. The subject, Jim Gullo, has an eight year-old son who is becoming a hardcore baseball freak, but who, at the same time, is acutely aware of Barry Bonds’ issues, the Mitchell Report, and the rest of the ongoing steroid saga. This, according to the piece, presents a problem:

Gullo, 52, introduced his son to an old baseball board game that he used to play as a kid. He also was Joe’s Little League coach. When Joe turned 7, Gullo got him a PlayStation 2 baseball video game that his son fell in love with. But that same year, the Mitchell Report on doping in baseball was released. Gullo suddenly had to confront a dark reality of cheating and lying, and drugs. Many of the top players in Joe’s video game were implicated in the report, as was the player whose name was on Joe’s new baseball glove. Joe’s prized baseball card collection became possible evidence of wrongdoing. He started separating cards that had suspicious home run numbers — a big surge in home runs, followed by a drop-off. He’d crunch the numbers and then ask his dad if the player did steroids.

“What do you answer to that?” Gullo asks. “I have no idea, and I don’t know how to counsel my kid” . . .

. . . “Frankly, I am reluctant as a parent to really push baseball as a passion right now,” he says, “because I don’t know what’s going to come out next, or how this is all going to shake out, or who else is going to be named.”

Gullo is now working on a book about his connection with Joe and baseball. As part of the project, Gullo is considering a summer trip with his son. To find, as he says, a new kind of baseball hero.

This all seems rather weak and contrived to me. If you listen to the actual audio of the story, it’s plainly obvious that his son is not suffering any lost love for baseball whatsoever. Indeed, he sounds like a more amped-up version of me when I was eight combined with the healthily skeptical adult fan you can find anywhere these days. At the same time, the father doesn’t exactly come off as the “won’t somebody think of the children?!” type either. Certainly not the kind of guy who is outsourcing the role model business to pro athletes. He loves baseball. His son loves baseball. They’re both able to talk about it intelligently and with perspective. What’s the problem?

After listening to the story, I can’t help but think that this “dilemma” and the search for “a new kind of baseball hero” is being played up a bit in the service of the memoir Gullo is writing. My guess is that that in the book, the “new kind of baseball hero” is going to end up being Gullo himself for introducing the game to his son and taking him on what sounds like will be a great trip. Which is how it should be.

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Comments

  1. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    I have a soon-to-be-9 year old who is also a baseball nut.  We’ve discussed this very issue.  He knows what’s going on.  And I think I’ve been able to use it as a springboard into a greater life discussion about not looking for shortcuts, cheating and integrity.  Sure, he’s only 9 (in a few weeks) but he gets it.

    It doesn’t stop him from rooting for his team and he was clearly disappointed to learn about ARod’s usage.

    Then he asks to go have a catch so it doesn’t bother him THAT much.

  2. kendynamo said...

    He’d crunch the numbers and then ask his dad if the player did steroids.

    “What do you answer to that?” Gullo asks. “I have no idea, and I don’t know how to counsel my kid” . . .

    well that sounds like a YP, not MP.  i mean seriously, what a loser.  if all dads were like this everyone would grow up completely incompetant.

  3. MooseinOhio said...

    As a parent and uncle to children under six who are already expressing a real interest in baseball (nephew memorized Red Sox yearbook latt year) I wonder when it is appropriate to talk about the negatives of baseball.  There is a long history of negative issues associated with baseball including the Black Sox scandal, the exclusion of non-white players, racist ownership groups that did everything possible not to integrate, Pete Rose’s saga and why he is not in the HoF and why players have a history of abusing their bodies with items such as excessive alcohol, uppers and PEDs.

    I guess what I am saying is that steroids is only the most recent negative story regarding baseball and as a parent we can teach our children lessons from the mistakes of others.  I intend to teach my child some great life lessons such as why cheating is wrong (Bonds, CLemens), the importance of personal responsibility (Rose)taking care of your body (Mantle) and about bigger societal issues such prejudice and discrimination (Negro Leagues, Yawkeys). 

    I can help my daughter embrace her Puerto Rican heritage with discussions about Hiram Bithorn and Roberto Clemente and we can talk about the history of prejudice and dicrimination impacts her as an African America as well.  Obviously as a white man that mean she will be questioning why one side of her family treated the other side of her family in such a way.  These are not easy life lessons but if baseball helps me bring some sense of context to these difficult life lessons then baseball has benefitted my life in yet another wonderful way.

  4. kendynamo said...

    what i dont get about all these issues is why it’s always inextricably linked to baseball, the sport.  if only baseball had stayed clean, the my kid would never have found out about steroids!  baseball the sport is awesome.  that adults who get paid to play baseball for a living did some not so cool stuff doesnt change that fact.

  5. Eric said...

    This reminds me of stories about the strike when I was 8. Sure it was greedy, sure it was frustrating, sure it was ‘bad for baseball.’ But all it did was make me want to do was learn what a salary cap was and where these replacement players came from. In the end, it didn’t diminish my love for the game at all.

  6. Scott said...

    A lot of parents, and people who work with kids, call these things “teachable moments”. They’re a great chance to start meaningful discussions with your kids. They can be uncomfortable, but they’re almost immeasurably valuable.

    It’s a lot to glean from one article, but it sounds like Mr. Gullo is afraid of having these discussions. Or maybe he’s looking to capitalize on other parents’ discomfort. Either way, blech.

  7. Tom Wirth said...

    If Mr. Gullo wants to find a new kind of baseball hero, he should take his son to Safeco Field and watch Ken Griffey, Jr play.

  8. Jacob said...

    Unfortunately, for Griffey to be anyone’s new baseball hero, they’d not only have to go to Seattle but also to 1999.

  9. Monahan said...

    I predict his book with be the “Tuesdays with Morrie” of baseball.  Yuck.

    This country is a walking contradiction when it comes to children, because all the media gives voice to is the “we must shelter our children” vibe, meanwhile parents are taking under 17 yr old children to see Watchmen (an R-rated, uber violent, graphic sex scene movie) in droves.  Well, not droves enough to match the initial hype, but you get my point…

  10. Ron said...

    The game of baseball is eternal. The people who play are just temporary moments of time.

    That’s what he needs to tell his kid.

  11. Leo said...

    I think Scott’s comment is dead on.

    I have a one year old who’s interest in baseball is limited to chewing on the plastic baseball so I haven’t explained much to her yet.  I intend to encourage her to enjoy baseball as much as I enjoy it.  If she does, then later discovers a scandal, I will say “some people cheat, honey.  most people don’t.  that doesn’t change what baseball is all about.”

  12. Matt M said...

    In the last few years, we’ve seen CEOs of major corporations go to jail for fraud, politicians stuff bribe money in their freezers, political lackeys lie to Congress and law enforcement with impunity, and this guy is worried about talking to his kid about steroids in baseball? I just hope his kid doesn’t watch the NFL.

  13. Tom Goldman said...

    I’m the reporter who did this story and I want to thank everyone who commented.  Even if you didn’t like it, or like what Mr. Gullo said, or DIDN’T say, it’s great that you’re all talking about this.  I think a debate/discussion on doping in sports is the only viable option if we want to have any chance of coming to grips with the issue.  I would like to defend a couple of things:  for those of you who think Mr. Gullo is hiding from the issues, please note the story he recounts of talking to his kid in the airport about Barry Bonds.  Mr. Gullo is trying to lay out Bonds’ side of the case…never knowingly took drugs…and trying to get his son to think about the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing we so value in this country.  Of course the son won’t have any of it – Bonds is guilty, he says!  But that’s just an example of the discussions they ARE having.  Also, I think Mr. Gullo’s confusion on what to tell his son is valid.  Many hardcore baseball fans, I think, have made their peace with the steroids era – as some of you say in your comments, baseball is the eternal game, some cheated…not all…and let’s move on. That’s a message these fans give to their kids….and that’s great.  But there ARE people out there, like Mr. Gullo, who still are confused, and skeptical about what Mr. Gullo calls, I think rightly so, the most pervasive scandal and coverup in the history of sport in this country.  They are trying to take cues from the game itself, its leaders, its players, its union…and they’re getting little to nothing.  Bud Selig, the union (rarely), the players, baseball executives, are so totally REACTIVE in their approach – the problem gets bad enough, the media scrutiny gets too hot…THEN they speak out…and with not much gusto.  If the bulk of players are clean, why aren’t they out there saying that…with a strong, united voice? Proactively. As it is, players only respond to reporter’s question, testily for the most part.  The commissioner gets angry and insulted when he’s accused of sleeping on the job when it comes to steroids.  But what about a concerted effort, a multi-media campaign (aside from a few anti-steroids ads and an ocassional mention of Don Hooten) to fully address the scandal that has become a PR nightmare for the game?  The answer, some believe, is that neither baseball nor ANY of this country’s major sports leagues, REALLY want to confront the issue of doping.  Because if they did, they might find something deeper than the public ever imagined.  As it is, the leagues are able to trot out some announcements about testing and cracking down and being dedicated to ridding their sport of demon drugs…just enough to appease the fans so the fans will keep coming to and watching games.

    In the absence of real talk and full disclosure from the sport, I think it’s quite plausible that some parents, like Mr. Gullo, may not know what to tell their kids.

    Thanks and keep listening to NPR…and reading the Hardball Times!

  14. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Tom—Obviously I’m one of the voices who is a little skeptical as to whether Gullo is truly as as much of a loss as he suggests (seems like a balanced father and son, if you ask me).  Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed the report and appreciate you showing up here to defend its subject.

    As for your larger point, I agree with you that that the resposne from both baseball and the union has ranged from frustrating to maddening
    over the past few years.  I’ve written extensively about how I believe the Mitchell Report to have been nothing more than a PR document.  At first a successful one, and now that A-Rod’s names and others have leaked out, one which is more and more laughable by the day. 

    As for the union, I agree they could have handled this better—just today I took Mark McGwire to task for not opening up more when he, unlike many
    others, had the professional freedom to do so.  That said, given the union’s history with ownership, there was no reason whatsoever for the
    former to trust the latter when the issue of steroids came up, and given the hasty manner in which Selig appointed Mitchell as his
    steroid investigator, they were probably right to respond the way they did, even if it has cost them dearly in the court of public opinion.

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