Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Mitchell Report caps a sorry era

In almost any large business, there is often a seamy portion that is not for the faint of heart.

When a person gazes upon it, the viewer's perception of the business is often permanently changed. For folks who are naïve and idealistic, seeing this often strips away a part of their innocence.

For others who have been hardened by the world, this ugliness only re-enforces their view of the world and makes them a little more cynical.

A moment like this occurred recently when Major League Baseball released the long awaited Mitchell Report. The report was the product of a commission headed up by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

The commission's task was to investigate the impact illegal steroid use has had on professional baseball over the last decade or so.

The commission named more than 80 former and current major leaguers, which it claimed used illegal steroids during this time. The names in the report ranged from the inconsequential (Brian Roberts) to the extraordinary (Roger Clemens).

There has been no shortage of opinions regarding this report. Many questioned the need for it since most of the steroid use that is alleged occurred before Major League Baseball had a comprehensive steroid testing program.

However, this report was necessary. If nothing else, it puts this era of the sport into some kind of perspective.

For years, steroid use by major leaguers was the game's dirty little secret and rumors that certain players "were on the juice" circulated for years. To many, the inclusion of Roger Clemens in the report was a total shock, but he had been on the receiving end of rumors for a long time. Clemens, however, maintains that he has never used steroids.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig likes to talk about how the game is enjoying record attendance and that it is more popular than ever. While this is true, this popularity was fueled by the illegal actions of many.

Back in the mid 90s, the game was reeling after a work stoppage that eventually caused the 1994 World Series to be cancelled. Many fans swore they would never attend or watch another major league game again.

However, beginning in the late 90s, behemoths that looked like lumberjacks swinging a bat began slamming the ball out of the park. Home runs began flying out of ball parks in record numbers as players like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds took turns breaking the game's single season home run record.

It was a glorious time as every season seemed to bring another amazing feat by these highly paid entertainers.

Everybody got caught up in the wonder of it all. The fans, baseball management, and the media all bought into the idea that baseball had entered another golden age.

However, like all things that seem too good to be true, the golden age was really not much more than a lump of coal.

Renegade slugger Jose Canseco wrote a dubious book in 2005 that named players he said used steroids. Congressional hearings were held in which McGwire famously deflected questions from politicians by stating he only wanted to talk about the future and not what he might have done in the past.

Bonds has been relentlessly hounded, and the book Game of Shadows delivered a devastating portrait of him as a steroid user.

In the shadows of this calamity, Commissioner Selig asked Sen. Mitchell to lead the effort to record the impact of steroids on the game.

Though I have some problems with the report (primarily the credibility of the sources used to finger Clemens and others in this mess), I believe the report is important if for no other reason that it puts the last decade or so into a historical context.

Let's not kid ourselves by believing that the people mentioned in the report were the only ones who might have used the stuff. Far from it. Because of the lack of cooperation of most players with the investigation, the report likely doesn't come close to the true number of players who took steroids.

So, Commissioner Selig can take solace in the fact that baseball is more popular now than it ever has been. However, this success is built on a foundation of manure.

And, as we all know, manure stinks.


Joltin' Django said...

I went to the mall this morning to do some last-minute shopping. Waldenbooks had hardback copies of "Game of Shadows" for $5. I'm sure it's in the remainder bin in other book stores, too.

Anonymous said...

Donald Fehr and Bud Selig get most of the blame from me.