Friday, July 24, 2009

Parque story more relevant because he was a journeyman ballplayer – not a star

I remember former Chicago White Sox pitcher Jim Parque primarily because he would fiddle around with his laptop computer in the clubhouse and on a few occasions wrote first-person pieces about being a ballplayer that got published in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Well, it appears that Parque didn’t forget how to send a piece of copy to the Sun-Times, which on Thursday published his account of how he used human growth hormones (a.k.a., steroids).

THAT MAKES HIM yet another professional athlete to use a substance that some sports fans want to view as cheating (it is intended to bolster one’s strength in an artificial manner).

Much of the attention has gone to the “big names” of baseball – Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, the Cubs’ very own Sammy Sosa. I’m sure there are Cubs fans who would love it if Frank Thomas were found to have used some artificial substance for all that muscular bulk he has, just to shut up White Sox fans who snicker at the Cubs’ expense every time Sosa’s name comes up.

Yet I can’t help but think the Parque account (assuming he’s not leaving any details out) is more significant. Because it tells the story of a guy whose career was basically over, and was using HGH in an attempt to regain the strength he once had.

Not that I think that justifies the use of HGH. By his own admission, he wrote that he knew he was doing something that would be looked down upon when he first injected himself with the substance.

HE EVEN ADMITS to being suspicious of the needles and chemicals when they first came because they didn’t look anything like he expected them to when he first learned about them by perusing the Internet.

But he used them anyway, which makes me think that ballplayers throughout the ages have a similarity about them.

I remember reading “Ball Four,” the ballplayer diary of 1960s pitcher Jim Bouton, who wrote he suspected that if a ballplayer were offered a drug that would boost the speed of his fastball, but at the expense of a year or two of life, the ballplayer wouldn’t hesitate to take it.

Now I know the Chicago Tribune responded to the Sun-Times account by having their former ballplayer – one-time White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell – write a commentary calling Parque a marginal ballplayer who overwrote a story about himself.

YET I THINK the fact that Parque is not is a star is what makes his story more significant. He had the average career – literally, parts of six seasons in the major leagues, without ever making the kind of money that would enable him to spend the rest of his life not working.

Parque didn’t use these drugs to give himself superhuman strength to enable him to break all kinds of records and “desecrate” the baseball record books with tainted accomplishments – which is the image all too many baseball fans want to use when discussing the issue.

After hurting his shoulder and realizing he didn’t have anywhere near the strength he used to, he turned to an artificial means. Which may be “wrong,” but I’m not sure a lot of people in his situation would have behaved differently.

Personally, I will continue to remember Parque for that one respectable season he had – in 2000, when he was one of the White Sox starting pitchers (not the top pitcher) on a team that won the most games in the American League that season, before going down to defeat in the first round of the playoffs against the Seattle Mariners.

OF COURSE, THE Yankees wound up winning the pennant and World Series that year, so perhaps it really doesn’t matter much whether the White Sox won or lost that year.

And as for those people who now are going to want to brand him, I’m going to wonder why they get so bent out of shape on this issue.

I honestly believe that the ballplayers who misuse such drugs are doing harm to their own bodies. In the end, they will pay with whatever physical misfortunes they bring upon themselves.

That is a far worse punishment than any of the talk some sports fans will spew about the need for “lifetime bans” or “asterisks” being attached to any statistical achievements they might have accomplished on the playing field.

AND IN THE end, this issue might be more significant as a story about the modern trends in competition among the Chicago newspapers, rather than as an issue involving steroids in sports.

Parque for the Sun-Times. McDowell for the Tribune.

When was the last time one saw former White Sox pitchers using the opposing newspapers (and their accompanying websites) to tell their story?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Extra, Read all about it! Chicago newspapers this week used former White Sox pitchers (,CST-SPT-parque23.article) to try to bolster ( their readers’ comprehension of steroids in sports.

The one-time first round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox won nearly half the games of his career ( in that one season the White Sox took a division title.


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Unknown said...

Parque was not a journeyman. He pretty much only played for one team.