When I read the headline in the NEWARK STAR-LEDGER “Chass Speculates on Piazza Rumors,” I naturally assumed it would be about…you know…those rumors. But it turns out that the former NEW YORK TIMES writer and Baseball Hall of Famer/old crank Murray Chass had something less prurient but miles more disgusting on his mind when writing for his blog than Mike Piazza’s sexual orientation: he spent more than 1,000 words ruminating on Piazza’s acne-covered back.
Or at least what used to be his acne-covered back, because Chass claims that once steroid testing started in 2004, Piazza’s “backne” mysteriously cleared up. Not that Chass was spending a lot of time inspecting the bare backs of baseball players in the clubhouse. The bare, chiselled, glistening with sweat backs of players…where was I?
“This was a physical feature I had always noticed with Piazza. Not that reporters spend their time in clubhouses looking at guys’ bare backs, but when a reporter is talking to a player at his locker before he puts on his uniform shirt or after he takes it off and he turns around to put something in or take something out of his locker his back is what is visible. And Piazza’s acne was always visible. Teen-age kids never had such a problem.”
Chass had wanted to write in the paper about Piazza’s pizza back in “disgusting living color,” but was stopped several times by his Times baseball editor, who either wanted nothing to do with speculation based on circumstantial evidence, or (in Chass’ words) was possibly “a big Mets’ fan, protecting the Mets.” I’ll throw in a third possibility: the editor didn’t want millions of New Yorkers vomiting in their breakfast as they read a detailed description of Piazza’s pus-covered, scabby back. (Someone get that editor a Pulitzer.)
But while Piazza’s back was apparently covered in pimples before steroid testing started, Chass says that once it did begin in 2004, Piazza’s acne vanished:
“But the method Piazza used became apparent to me. It wasn’t medicine or any substance; it was abstinence. This was during the 2004 season, the first season baseball was testing for performance-enhancing substances with identification and penalties attached. If Piazza had been using steroids and didn’t want to get caught, he had to stop using. If he stopped using, his back would clear up.“
Perhaps when he writes about “abstinence,” Chass means it in the traditional sense: Piazza actually refrained from having sex, which somehow cleared up his acne problems. Although that approach didn’t seem to work for me when I was a teenager, although it was less “abstinence” and more “not getting any.”
It might be idle speculation, but we all know the correlation between back acne and steroid use. Perhaps Chass is onto something: instead of having players pee into a cup, maybe MLB can just have them take off their shirts and inspect their backs for zits. Although you can imagine players having panicky “pimple popping parties” the night before testing?
…and I just threw up in my mouth.