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Some Thoughts on the Mitchell Report

It's been a dark couple of days for us baseball fans as the fallout from George Mitchell's report on steroid use in the sport continues, and it promises to get worse before it gets better.  Players implicated in the report are starting to put out statements either accepting blame for what they're said to have done, or, more likely, denying having ever taken steroids or HGH.  It won't be long before the Players Union marshals its PR forces to fight the report, and the team owners and management look for ways to absolve themselves of culpability.  Congress intends to hold hearings.  This is going to be ugly.

Anyone who was surprised by the names on the list or the number of players involved hasn't been paying attention for the past several years.  ESPN and the various news outlets made it seem that the inclusion of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in the list was a shock.  Give me a break.  Does no one remember the news out of Houston last spring, when they were implicated in the Astros' mini HGH scandal?  Did no one suspect anything when both players suddenly shaved their heads a few seasons back?  (Hair loss is often a symptom of HGH use and players often seek to hide this by shaving their heads -- For more information, I refer you to the coifing histories of Bonds, Barry; McGwire, Mark; Palmeiro, Rafael.  Head shavers all.)  Did no one think it strange when, during the 2000 World Series on a routine broken bat groundout by Mike Piazza, Clemens inexplicably picked up the head of Piazza's shattered bat and threw it at him?  Granted, Clemens has been a head case for a long time (For more information I refer you to the American League Playoff series of 1989, when Clemens had a now-infamous meltdown with the home plate umpire) but didn't the bizarre incident in 2000 raise any eyebrows?  (Hyper-aggressive behavior is another HGH symptom.)

Staying with Clemens, and Bonds as well.  One of the really sad things about this is that it has called into question the careers of two players who were certain Hall-of-Famers before they ever picked up a needle.  Clemens was the dominant pitcher in baseball from 1986 through the late nineties.  He won three Cy Young Awards without using any performance enhancing drugs.  He was on track to strike out three thousand batters in his career; he might well have gotten to 300 career wins.  He would have been remembered as one of the ten greatest pitchers in baseball history.  And Bonds, for all the criticism he's taken throughout his career for being an anti-social jerk, would quite likely have been remembered as one of the three greatest left-fielders ever to play the game, along with Ted Williams and Stan Musial.  He was on pace to hit 500 home runs (a number that once meant something), to steal five hundred bases, to score close to 2,000 runs and drive in 1,700.  He won three MVP awards early in his career, as well as eight gold gloves.  They were the best of the best -- both of them.  They didn't need to do anything to make themselves better.  But driven by ego and money and, in Bonds' case, his jealousy of the adulation heaped on McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, they threw it all away.  Now they'll be lucky to make the Hall of Fame.  And their names will be linked first and foremost with scandal, cheating, shame, rather than with baseball excellence.

Isn't it interesting that Miguel Tejada, the Baltimore Orioles' all-star shortstop, who was named in the report, was traded the day before it was issued?  Was it just coincidence that Andy Pettitte completed negotiations on a $16 million contract also the day before the report came out?  Doesn't the trade of Jim Edmunds (another head shaver, and a player who has managed to recover with notable swiftness from injuries that might have ended the careers of other men) the day after the report came out raise red flags for anyone?  The team owners and general managers knew what was going on the whole time -- any attempt on their part to claim ignorance or innocence is completely disingenuous.  This was a scandal in the deepest sense of the word.  500 foot home runs and 100 mph ratings on the radar machines gauging pitch speed were and are good for attendance.  Baseball, for all its recent problems, has never been more profitable for players and ownership alike.  The performances made possible by steroids and HGH are partially responsible for that.  So players juiced, and owners, GMs, and managers looked the other way.

Just in case people think that steroids automatically make you a great player, I refer you to the following players listed as users in Mitchell's report:  Mark Carreon, Chuck Knoblauch (a once great player who couldn't save his career, even with the drugs), Jeremy Giambi . . . .  The list goes on.  HGH was used by players to speed the healing process from injuries and surgeries.  And, yes, it was used to improved on-field performance.  But as Mark Carreon found out, it couldn't help a player learn to hit a curve ball.  As Knoblauch learned, it couldn't restore the confidence of a once decent second baseman in his ability to throw the ball to first.  It could make a decent hitter better by putting more pop in his bat.  Maybe it could make a good player great.  Certainly in Bonds' case it made a great player into the greatest offensive force the game has ever seen.  But I would be willing to bet that for most, the on-field results were nowhere near the cost in terms of long-term health and damage to their reputations.

For me, the saddest thing in the report was what Mitchell had to say about the prevalence of drug use in the minor leagues.  These are basically kids, barely out of high school or college, who are destroying themselves for a shot at glory and huge amounts of money.  The game has been poisoned, the problem is systemic, and the healing process is going to take years.

Today's music:  Mark O'Connor


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 15th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
When do they do the same for football? I find it difficult to believe that some of the hulking monsters there aren't drug-enhanced...

The cries of "I'm not guilty!" are going to be loud and strident, I'm sure. The one good story in this is that Ken Griffey Jr. seems to be among the 'clean' players -- it's nice to see that someone can perform at a high level without performance-enhancing drugs.
Dec. 16th, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)
Steroids in football? Pshaw!! No way! Those men are ATHLETES. They look like that because they workout. Yeah, that's it....

I was glad to see that Junior wasn't on the list. And also Jeter, A-Rod, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Vlad Guerrero, etc. The sport needs to have clean players, older stars as well as up-and-comers. They're the only ones who can save it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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