For a recap of my first “visit” to Dr. Kendall, go here.
Here we go again, I think.
“Um, yes, I need to schedule an appointment,” I say, a little weak-kneed and a lot apprehensive.
“Your name?” the receptionist asks.
OK, deep breath. Nice and slow. Let it out.
“Podlogar. Alex POD-LO-GAR.”
Go ahead. Spell it out. P-O-D…
“OK, Mr. Poad-liger. Have you seen the doctor before?”
“Yes, back in August, when the Cubs seemed like they were falling apart.”
“Oh, you’re the Cubs Guy.”
Great. My reputation precedes me. The Cubs Guy. Sums it up though.
“Yes. The Cubs Guy. Do you have anything?”
“Oh yes, Dr. Kendall will make room for you.”
Old magazines? Check. Long wait? Check. My last name mispronounced when I’m called back to his office? Check.
I take my usual spot, right there on the couch. Did it the last time, may as well do it again.
The door opens. Wire-rims. Gray beard. Wrinkled Dockers.
No tweed sweater though. It’s nearing spring.
“So, Mr., uh, well, Alex. How do you like this weather?”
“It’s great. Just how it should be when pitchers and catchers report.”
“That coming up already?”
“Happened already, Doc. This weekend.”
“Wow. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you’d know that. So, what can I do for you today? Sorry about the playoffs. First-round sweep again, huh? I thought I’d hear from you then.”
“Like you said in August, nothing new.”
“Well, yes. But that’s the life of the die-hard Cubs fan, isn’t it? It’s tough, but it’s all a part of who you are.”
“I guess, but we all wouldn’t mind changing that, maybe trade it for what the Red Sox have done. But that’s not why I’m here, Doc.”
“Oh? But you’re the Cubs Guy.”
“But I’m a baseball guy first. And it’s this whole A-Rod thing. Well, not just A-Rod, but steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. I’m having a really hard time with this.”
“OK, well, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore. Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be the one guy, the savior of baseball who was to make Barry Bonds’ records merely temporary. And now he’s a cheat like the rest of them.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Angry. Like Cubs-collapse angry.”
“OK. So you were surprised about A-Rod.”
“Actually, not really.”
“Yeah. I mean, nothing really surprises me about baseball and steroids now.”
“But you’re still angry? Why?”
“Because they don’t need it. I mean, look, I get why somebody like Manny Alexander takes steroids. He’s trying to stay in the game. But Bonds? A-Rod? They were already great. And yet they felt like they needed that edge, too.”
“So you don’t like Bonds? Don’t think what he did was legitimate?”
“Let me ask you this, though. How many pitchers were using PEDs at the same time? Maybe he just leveled the playing field.”
“There’s some truth to that, Doc. I mean, you don’t see many middle relievers hitting the high-90s anymore.”
“Might explain Bob Howry, right?”
“That’s cold, Doc. But could be very true. And that’s the thing. Baseball fans don’t know anymore, don’t know what was real and what wasn’t. So the trust is lost. It’s like me. I saw my first game in Wrigley in 1999. Sammy Sosa blasted a three-run bomb onto Waveland. Big day for me. But Sosa was probably juicing. And so now that moment is not as magical 10 years later as it was that day. I feel like something is lost.”
“So you feel like you’ve been violated as a fan.”
“Maybe. I’ve spent a lot of money on baseball tickets in my life.”
“But you were entertained, right?”
“Yeah. Well, the times having to watch the Cubs start Ruben Quevedo and bring in Steve Rain weren’t exactly entertaining.”
“It seems like the whole era had something going on, didn’t it Alex? So why not just move on? Baseball has one of the best drug-testing policies in major sports. They seem to have a handle on it now.”
“But that doesn’t answer what came before, and what we do with it. What we think about it. How we remember it. What it did to the game.”
“To the game?”
“Doc, baseball is all about numbers. 61. 755. Now we have 73 and 762, and all these questions about how the man got to those numbers. It’s not like football. Who knows how may yards Emmitt Smith finished with? Nobody cares. But numbers matter in baseball lore.”
“That’s a little melodramatic, isn’t it Alex?”
“On anything else, yes. On baseball? No. And it’s offensive for you to even say that to a baseball fan.”
“OK, OK. But what about greenies? Weren’t baseball players routinely taking amphetamines as far back as 50, 60 years ago? Those are performance-enhancing, at least to a degree, right?”
“I know. I know.”
“And look at the money these guys make. Why wouldn’t they try to find an edge? Look at what it might mean for his next contract. If I had a pill that would put you on the fast track as a columnist for USA Today, wouldn‘t you think about it?”
“I know. I know.”
“And of course the owners and the commissioner wouldn’t care. Doesn’t everybody say McGwire and Sosa saved the game back in ’98 with their home run chase? The fans came back. The stadiums were full. Owners making money. Baseball is relevant again.”
“I know. I know.”
“And hasn’t baseball enjoyed record-setting attendance every year over the last decade? Fans don’t seem to care.”
“I know. I know. But it’s still not right. The players could bounce back from an injury so fast. That’s not natural at all.”
“How is cortisone different? Maybe it’s just an advance of science.”
“Cortisone isn’t illegal. Cortisone doesn’t chemically alter your body’s fundamental functions. Ever hear of the testicle-shrinking, Doc?”
“Fine, but why is it bothering you so much? It happened. Acknowledge it and move on. Baseball players and baseball owners aren‘t angels. They never were. They never will be.”
“I know. Jim Bouton taught me that in Ball Four. And he wrote that before I was born.”
“You know, there will be something else someday. There will always be something else. Maybe it’s another strike. Maybe gambling again. Maybe new, synthetic drugs that are undetectable.”
“Like the ones they’re probably all using now?”
“Thanks Doc, but I don’t think we got very far today.”
“I’ll have the receptionist schedule you for another appointment. How’s April 6 sound?”