Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Exhuming Palmeiro

"Let us not assassinate this man further Senator, You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

When I was young, what would ultimately be known as "alternative" music (and, later, "indie rock") was generally given the label "college rock". This was a catch-all term covering a wide variety of bands and genres, the common thread being that you would rarely hear any of the artists on mainstream radio. The BMOC's, the guys who owned the hipsters who listened to this stuff, can be summed up in three little letters.

R.E.M.

They are still synonymous with the term college rock, despite the fact that they've been irrelevant for more than a decade. You know the story - after acheiving mainstream success with Out of Time, they released Automatic For The People to much critical acclaim. They followed this up with cutout bin staple Monster, then Bill Berry had an aneurysm and left the band (the other guys, to their credit, wanted to disband, but Berry refused to quit unless they stayed together - see, I do remember something from all those episodes of "Behind The Music"). The three remaining members have released three albums since, of declining quality, the latest being the critically-reviled Around the Sun.

Every soccer mom in the world owns a copy of Out of Time, stuffed into that compartment in between the two front seats of their minivan, sandwiched between a recording of a Beethoven symphony and a copy of The Beatles 1. They have probably spent zero time thinking about the fall from grace of the band, filling the gap with Norah Jones or John Legend or whatever the hell counts for new music to a middle-aged woman. But REM used to matter, really matter, and their descent into the worst of MOR album rock has been horrifying. The truth is that REM were never edgy - they made pretty simple roots rock, with just a hint of punk DIY spirit. Hootie and the Blowfish became millionaires with just about the same formula, stripped of the DIY ethic by its label or the band itself. In the end, their early "cool" records don't sound that different from their current output, and it makes me question why I loved them in the first place - in fact, it makes listening to even their first few albums a bit embarrassing.


In 1996 the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time that I actually remembered (I was too young in 1983 to appreciate their run). That team is probably best remembered for two things - Roberto Alomar spitting in the face of John Hirschbeck near the end of the regular season, and Jeffrey Maier turning a Derek Jeter flyout into a home run in game 1 of the ALCS. The next year, 1997, the Orioles went wire-to-wire in the AL East (being the last non-Yankees team to win the division up to this point). This was the greatest year I've yet had as an O's fan - I started college in the fall, so I got to watch the postseason in dorm rooms with like-minded people. Sure the O's lost their second straight ALCS, but in the end it was a hell of a fun ride.

My favorite player on those O's teams was Rafael Palmeiro.

I loved Cal, but he was an earlier generation's Oriole. Roberto Alomar lost a lot of respect with his expectoration, and besides which he always felt like a mercenary. My roommate Jim swore that he saw Brady Anderson in a restaurant carrying a purse - I didn't really believe him, but the fact that I had to think about it tells you a lot about how regular (read: male) fans felt about Brady. Mussina was great, but who chooses a pitcher as their favorite player? No, Raffy was the guy - I remember when he signed with the O's in the 93-94 offseason, it was a big deal because Angelos was still a pretty new owner, and this was the first splashy free agent signing he had made. I loved him - his effortless swing, his little Cuban mullet, his perfectly-styled mustache. He was humble, and he was seriously fucking good.

On August 1, 2005, the lead story on Sportscenter was that Raffy had tested positive for steroids. Canseco said it, but no one really believed it; Canseco's a vindictive douchebag, and Palmeiro looked the same in 2005 as he did in 1995. He didn't balloon up like the other suspected steroiders. But Canseco was right, Raffy had used. Most people were understandably outraged; I was sad. He still looked the same as he did in 1996 and 1997, when the O's finally mattered, so to me he still WAS the same guy. It wasn't simply 2005 Raffy getting caught cheating, it was 1997 Raffy getting caught too. He has permanently altered my memories of that team, and he has made it an embarrassment to remember it with fondness.

I know that REM will ultimately be remembered not for their latter-day output, but for the albums that put them on the map and made them into a success story and an inspiration to hundreds, if not thousands, of other musicians. In the same vein, I believe that some day Palmeiro will be in the Hall of Fame. When this has all passed into history and voters realize just how pervasive this stuff was, they will be able to put in guys who used, even if they have to hold their noses. After all, they may hate steroids, but the love of round numbers ultimately trumps all. I don't know how I'll feel about it, but I know it won't be the same as I would have felt before that test came back positive.

And I know that Document is still a fucking good album. But somehow, it's not as good as it used to be, and that sucks.

3 Comments:

Blogger Whisk E. Bear said...

I passed on a chance to get tickets to the game in which Palmeiro got his 3,000th hit. In retrospect, I have no regrets. O.K., a slight regret, tempered by the knowledge that Rafael Palmeiro is a God-damned cheater.

Had Edgar Martinez been busted for steroids during his farewell campaign, I imagine I would have felt the same way. Ignorance is bliss.

Wed Aug 09, 01:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger David Bowie said...

Palmeiro won't make it, he's the only available scapegoat with actual proof of guilt. I suspect it will take McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds a few extra years, but your man and his mustache can picket the gates with Pete Rose.

Wed Aug 09, 02:58:00 AM EDT  
Blogger BobCat said...

Raffy sucked. He cheated so he could have bigger numbers then Will Clark, if he hadn't he would have spent his entire career being the "poor man's" Will Clark.
Lifes Rich Pageant is one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever made. I bought Automatic for the people the day it came out in Ogden Utah, while on a rode trip, and after listening to it I prayed they would break up. It was good and they were on top of the world but I knew that was it. Like I knew when Will Clark left the Giants he would never be the same.

Tue Aug 15, 10:03:00 PM EDT  

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