I love Ryan Dempster.
I’ve always loved Ryan Dempster.
Back when I was covering the Majors for Sports Illustrated, Ryan was one of my two or three favorite ballplayers to catch up with. First, he was funny. Like, really, really funny. Great impressionist (if I’m recalling correctly, he knew every line from “The Cable Guy”—he recited so spot on) who once tried selling his chewed gum as a TV gag. Second, he was accessible—if you needed someone to speak with after a Marlins game, Ryan was available (whether he tossed a three-hitter or whether he got shelled for 12 runs). Third, Ryan loved baseball. He was a traditionalist; a purist. The game meant something to him, well beyond a paycheck and some adulation. He knew what it meant to be a ballplayer. He felt the tradition. Absorbed it.
That’s why, when I watched the clip of Ryan beaning Alex Rodriguez last night, I smiled.
Many in the Twitter-verse (or whatever the hell it’s called) slammed Ryan, and I get it. What a pussy. It’s easy to do that when you don’t have to hit. Has he ever confronted his own cheating teammates (and Lord knows, Ryan’s had plenty of cheating teammates). On and on and on.
The points are valid. No doubt, they are.
And yet … I couldn’t help feeling that, with the pitch to Rodriguez’s body, Ryan was issuing a declaration on behalf of Major League Baseball’s clean, fed-up players. Namely: Fuck you.
Yes, fuck you.
Fuck you for cheating. Fuck you for stealing paychecks. Fuck you for influencing the outcomes of games. Fuck you for lying. Fuck you for dragging us all down. Fuck you—Ryan Braun and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada and Nelson Cruz and Barry Bonds and Jhonny Peralta and Paul Lo Duca and every other guy who felt the need to inject nonsense into their bodies to help accomplish what, naturally, they could not.
I’ve told this story before here, I believe, but whenever I think of guys being screwed by PED, I think of Sal Fasano, my friend and longtime journeyman catcher. Sal was a good, solid Major Leaguer who refused to use performance enhancers. In 2007, Sal’s wife, Kerri, gave birth to a son, Santo, who was born with hypoplastic heart syndrome, a condition in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. At the time Sal was scratching and clawing to hold on to his Major League career, so that he’d also maintain the excellent MLB health care plan. It was a huge deal, considering Santo’s medical bills exceeded $1 million. Hence, Sal played and played and played and played in the minors, desperate for a call-up (which he finally received, with Cleveland).
Meanwhile, as we later learned from the Mitchell Report, seven different catchers (at the very least) were using PED to get ahead and maintain Major League gigs.
That’s what Sal Fasano was up against.
That’s why, this morning, I love Ryan Dempster.