Manny and Mom

The New York Times

September 5,2009

By Doug glanville

One of the more powerful scenes I have seen in a movie was the moment in “The Matrix” ...

One of the more powerful scenes I have seen in a movie was the moment in “The Matrix” when Neo (Keanu Reeves) was challenged by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to decide whether to take the blue pill or the red pill.

The blue pill allowed him to continue to live as a dead-end programmer, always wondering why things he couldn’t explain were curiously happening in his life. The red pill granted him a gateway into a new reality, a place that explained the talents behind his unique sensitivity to these strange events he was experiencing, and one where he could be an apprentice on the path to his destiny as the “One” who could save the human race.

Hmmm, what to do?

The blissfulness of the blue pill depended on ignorance of where the red pill could take him. If he didn’t know there was this other world, maybe he would accept and appreciate what he had as being as good as it gets. But we all know that isn’t how it goes....

In my baseball days, playing without performance-enhancing substances came to feel like the equivalent of the blue pill, and the temptation of those drugs represented the red pill. But in baseball, unlike “The Matrix,” I didn’t have blissful ignorance to depend on: the evidence was in front of me. The red-pill takers were going from good to great, or going from “role player” to a starter, from Triple A to the big leagues. The money followed, the longevity followed. You could keep taking the blue pill and maybe be a major leaguer; but if you already had talent, and you took a red pill, you could be a star for years to come.

So which pill would you take?

This past week, Manny Ramirez (incidentally, drafted just one pick after I was in 1991) became another superstar name associated with the world of performance-enhancing drugs. More questions will be answered and facts uncovered in the weeks to come, but for now the league has brought down a 50-game suspension for traces of a feminine fertility drug in his system that has been linked to a steroid-like effect.

What is happening to the national pastime? Is every great player on the stuff?

My mom has always been a big part of how I evaluate what to do when faced with a choice between a blue pill and a red pill. She taught me to look at the big picture. A lot of people have asked me whether I’m bitter about having played the game “clean” while competing for my job with some opponents and teammates who weren’t. But my mom sat on my shoulder (even from 1,000 miles away in New Jersey), reminding me at those moments that the red-pill takers pay a big price for their decision.

From the outside, life in the red lane looks fantastic. It could be a decade before anyone finds out, anyway, so, for a while, you blend in with people who just think you’re having a wonderful reality. Little does anyone know that some unexplainable things are happening to you in the red lane, too.

Sure, your bank account is growing, your assault on the record books is continuing. But maybe your marriage is falling apart and your confidence in who you were without the red pill is so in question that you can’t go a day without popping another one. Everyone who cared about you has evaporated from your life, or become an accessory to your self-destruction. But on the outside it looks great — you have the great contract, the just-add-water friends, and the new girlfriend who was in Maxim 15 times.

And should you choose to stay in the blue world? At times, you can feel naïve, and wonder whether your choice wasn’t a dead end in comparison, hoping that some sense of justice will prevail to level the playing field. Maybe.

But that’s when my mom would sit on my shoulder and remind me of the beauty of knowing that what you gave of yourself was authentic, and that anything that happened — successes, failures — was real. I knew, for instance, that the two home runs I hit off Curt Schilling one day were real, no matter what someone in the Mitchell Report was doing. There’s power in knowing your capabilities, however imperfect, whatever odds you are up against. You get back a result you can trust.

So what is wrong with that?

With the blue pill, you can taste life as long as you accept in advance that it isn’t always going to be storybook. It will have bumps in the road — a torn hamstring tendon and a trip to the M.R.I. machine after a dive on Montreal’s Astro Turf were a couple of mine. But if we tell ourselves that the stakes are too high, that we can’t fail, age, miss a sign or make less than the other guy; that an honest effort isn’t good enough, and a home run is not a home run unless you hit it into next week; that you can’t have a bad day or ever slump (even if it is for reasons similar to J.D. Drew’s in 2007, when he hit a career low in home runs during a season when his baby son had to have major surgery) . . . then maybe the shame can be just as much on all of us.

The red pill can start to look like a guarantee, a pass to skip over the weakening effects of self-doubt. After all, your career is only so long. But Momma Glanville would chime in, saying, “You learn from all these things that our society seems to want us to avoid.” She also told me that “when you run, you take yourself with you” and that once you start running, it is even harder to stop. When you pop the red pill, you better have your track shoes on because, like Morpheus said to Neo, “You can’t turn back.”

So I will keep taking my daily dose of blue pills and know that I played this game with every part of my soul. I did the best I could on every day that I was fortunate to have the gift of playing baseball for a living. Some days I didn’t get any hits, some days I made a diving catch to save the game. I might beat a Cy Young winner single-handedly one day, and get booed for messing up Eric Milton’s no-hit bid another. But I left it all on the field, for all to see, naked and true.

I hope our society figures out that finding peace has a lot to do with understanding that the blue pill has all the jewels of life right there in front of us. It’s up to us to choose. But either way, don’t let the red pill fool you.

New York Times 05/09/2009


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