Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Questions than Answers

The Mitchell Report has finally arrived, full of names of offenders and cheaters that have been implicated for taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). With all of the hype surrounding the release and the “naming of names”, the talk by the players’ union of a “witch hunt”, and the alleged bullying of team trainers to compile names in the Report, my first reaction is – “That’s It?”

This is what has had players quaking in their cleats, had GM’s and trainers stiff-arming investigators, and had all sorts of media outlets ready to pounce on MLB’s imitation of an ostrich for the last 15 years?
This list of players is the fruit of the investigation?

Frankly, I’m surprised and a little disappointed that this is the net result of the whole investigation. Most of these names were already known due to suspensions, documented shipments of PEDs reported by the media, or by assertions and implications by Jose Canseco, Jason Grimsley and others. The new names that appear on the list are generally marginal MLB players and, unless those were the only players looking for an edge to put them above the level of a AAAA player, I find the scarcity of players’ names on this list fairly shocking.

Sure, it fingered the likes of Clemens and Gagne – but are any of these names really THAT surprising?
Was the Fountain of Youth that Clemens found in Toronto ever thought to be anything but filled with PEDs? He was on the downward slope of his career with 192 career wins when Boston let him go at the age of 33 – what do people think happened to him? A new training regimen…a new pitch?
Didn’t Gagne’s sudden rise to dominance, and subsequent precipitous drop-off just scream that he was working under false pretenses?
How about John Rocker’s best imitation of Haley’s Comet?

It seems that the Mitchell Report is meant to merely serve as a warning to players, unfortunately only scratching the surface of players that have likely used PEDs in one form or another in the past 5 years. Obviously, the Report’s hands were tied by the uncooperative nature of the players and specifically the players’ union, intent on “protecting their members’ privacy”, or the teams not willing to admit what they knew and when they knew it.

But it seems that the names on the list simply are linked to four main sources – BALCO, Jason Grimsley, former personal trainer Brian McNamee, and former Mets’ clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. If these names are what were born of those four sources (the only ones that were willing to talk to the Mitchell Report), how many other names remain unknown due to the code of silence or by a simple lack of evidence? If this many players can be named simply through a few webs of deceit, how many more exist out there that are breathing a sigh of relief today?

If any fan is na├»ve to be surprised by the Mitchell Report, they simply haven’t been paying attention to the influx and proliferation of PEDs in all aspects of sports. Performance-enhancing drugs are a problem in all sports (not merely baseball) for star players evidenced most obviously this year by the suspension of Patriots’ S Rodney Harrison and last year’s suspension of Chargers’ LB Shawne Merriman – two players whom, after serving their suspension, returned back to work without the infamy or scrutiny that seems to have been placed on MLB.

I suppose that a part of me was hoping that the Mitchell Report would pull back the curtain on the ugliness of how widespread the impact that PEDs had on MLB, particularly in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. But, again, I find myself disappointed that it didn’t go far enough – that it didn’t wait until every rock was turned over and evidence of every cheater was found. That, unfortunately, was likely wishful thinking and certainly could have had a much more lasting impact on MLB than the list of these players.

Some could say that the Mitchell Report is long overdue, and rightfully so; but to me, the results of the investigation are far from satisfactory and MLB should have completed a full and exhaustive investigation (which this does not seem to be) if they were truly interested in cleaning up the sport to the level that it needs. The investigative arms of different media outlets had seemingly done most of the legwork for the Mitchell Report and the question about whether these players (the ones still playing, that is) are even going to be disciplined makes the Report even more toothless and limited than it seems at first glance.

If the Mitchell Report is simply a first step to clean up the game, it has achieved the goal of breaking the ice and identifying how widespread a problem PEDs have been in MLB for some time now. If, however, it is seen as the definitive report on PEDs and will is viewed as some sort of long-standing Monroe Doctrine that will be used in MLB’s fight against PEDs, it will become outdated as soon as chemists and cheaters find a way to circumvent the rules in a new, more creative, way.

MLB must, in stark comparison to the way they’ve handled this problem in the past, remain diligent in combating and doing their best to eliminate PEDs from the game as best possible. If they feel that the results of the Mitchell Report will do that, they’re fooling themselves and will become a laughingstock as chemistry and creativity pass them by.

The Mitchell Report is a start, nothing else.
It serves as a warning that nobody is above being exposed as a cheater as Roger Clemens has suddenly (and rightfully) joined Barry Bonds on the Asterisk List. But, beyond the scare tactics, the real work remains to be done to truly clean up the game and retain the sanctity and the trust among fans that the players are not clean and will be held responsible if they are not. If that next step remains far off on the horizon, MLB is no better off today than it was yesterday morning. If MLB is willing to take a proactive stance on the problem, regardless of the impact at the gate and in public perception, the impact in the short term will be negative; but the long-term health of the game will benefit from the aggressive removal of this element from MLB to emerge as the viable (and honestly viable) sport that we have all grown to love.


rodells said...

Report is pretty much a joke.

What did it cost per month, $1 or $2 MILLION DOLLARS?!?!?!

Then you hear Selig talk about how he's hired some doctor to lead a team to find a test that detects HGH. Why not use the MILLIONS of wasted dollars to fund MANY doctors to get ahead of PEDs, instead of always being one or more steps behind?

R.M. Jennings said...

At least most of these guys did nothing significant while they were with the Tribe. Here's my breakdown:

Juan Gonzalez - busted with a bunch of nasty stuff in Canada at the end of his only season with the Indians.

David Segui - looks like he juiced for most of his career. It's a shame I always thought he was one of the good guys.

Tim Laker - also thought to be a good guy. However, it seems like he stopped before joining the Tribe.

Mark Carreon - I always thought Mark Carreon was cool, probably because he was the first player I remember the Indians trading for after I became a fan (I moved to Cleveland when I was 11 in 1996). And it sounds like, if he wasn't juicing during his half season with the Tribe, he was still feeling the effects from such activity.

Jason Grimsley - We already knew he was sort of a scumbag. And not that bright, either. come on, Paul Sorrento's bat?!?

David Justice - Though Justice was cool when I was a kid, too. The only good thing is that he started doing roids after he joined the Evil Empire. And we still have Westbrook and Barfield (the latest result of the Dybzinsky-Tabler-Lofton-Bradley trade lineage, which I think deserves its own entry).

Glenallen Hill - Who cares? Guy started buying after he left the shores of Lake Erie.

Ron Villone - Ditto, but replace "eight" with "seven".

Kent Mercker - acquired from the Orioles for Eddie Murray, then pitched twelve forgettable innings in 1996.

Chad Allen - marginal outfielder whose heartbreaking 1-for-10 stint with the Tribe may have caused him to sell his soul to the devil and buy steroids. I don't know anything about his stats from Japan, but it looks like he was a worse hitter after juicing.

David Bell - looks like he did hormones at the very end of his career with the Phillies. I liked this guy, because he was unexpectedly decent in 1998, and he played all the infield positions.

Paul Byrd - I wish his story added up.

John Rocker - Even if he was jucing when he was with the Indians, I got the feeling the other players were terrified of him anyway, and avoided him like the plague.

Matt Williams - Looks like he started long after his season with the Tribe, and also after I thought he had long since retired.

Steve Woodard - Maybe got steroids? Maybe it helped him beat Pedro in 2000 (I watched that game in class in high school).

Respectfully submitted (and unsolicited),

Anonymous said...

As usual, I think the problem stems from baseball's anti-trust exemption and corrupt financial structure.

Something people may not appreciate is how expensive steroids are to the player. They don't just buy the drugs. They need to pay off their inside guys, they need discreet transportation, they need drugs specifically tailored both to their medical needs and to evade the upcoming rounds of tests, and they need masking agents. To service a regular 'roids habit at the major league level, you're talking at least tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. Black market HGH probably isn't cheap, either. That kind of investment only makes sense in today's salary-cap-less, wildly inflated free agent market. You think Gary Matthews Jr. regrets his PED use? I sure don't.

Reduce the rewards, and you'll reduce the risk. We'll always have some guys who are willing to cheat, but the real problem here is that MLB doesn't think it can afford, in union disputes and lost revenue, any more than lip service to PED prevention.

And lip service, that's what the Mitchell Report is.