Saturday, December 15, 2007

Stupidity-Always Baseball's Drug of Choice

George Mitchell has done for anabolic steroids what Ken Starr did for blow jobs-he's given prudes in a chance to wallow in the delicious horror of it all while telling themselves it's all for the greater good of society. Each man created a shabby document to tell a shabby story.

No doubt about it, the Mitchell report is good reading. So was the Starr report. The American people decided the latter was not exactly a basis for making any important decisions about governance. That's what's going to happen to the Mitchell report, too. Thank goodness.

If the purpose of the report created by the former distinguished ineffectual Democratic Senate leader (sorry, redundancy) was to set baseball on the "look forward not back" path, then he need not have mentioned any player's names at all. It would have been quite sufficient to say the following.

1. Lots of players, some stars, most not, did steroids.
2. Everyone in baseball looked the other way because they were making money.
3. Steroids won't be the only performance-enhancing drug ever created, so the sport needs to agree on an overall policy that will prevent this from happening again.

That's pretty much what the report does say. Except for the names and the sordid details, that is, which is of course is all anybody read, or cares about. Starr didn't have to write about the blow jobs and the cigar and all that to say "Bill Clinton lied," either. Both he and Mitchell knew that the prurient details WERE the report. They were creating political documents with a purpose. The first purpose of any document is to get people to read it.

Without the names, the Mitchell report would have been an entry in baseball Sunday notes columns rather than leading all the network news broadcasts (including PBS, Mitchell might be the ultimate PBS news kind of guy) and the front page of every U.S. paper. It's gossip, impure and simple, and we live in a society where gossip rules.

Let's be blunt. The purpose of the Mitchell report was to give Bud Selig the political leverage he needs to impose drug rules without the co-operation of the Players' Association. That's why the report names players, but no specific instances of franchises ignoring, condoning, or collaborating in steroid use. If you don't think Mitchell found those, perhaps you'd like to buy some of my mortgage-backed securities. If you don't think Mitchell has evidence against some players that was swept under the rug in the interests of revenue enhancement, your trust in human nature is why three-card monte was invented.

Mitchell did call out Selig in the report. That's fine by Selig. Bud's peculiar genius as commissioner is to understand that absorbing constant abuse is his job description, and that a shrewd commish can turn that abuse to his own advantage.

But I digress. The fact is, the Mitchell report is a tainted document, (that's PBS for bullshit). It's treated with respect only because there's something about baseball that brings out the little kid in adults. The little learning-challenged kid.

Imagine if you will that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke commissioned a report to see what went wrong in the financial services industry in the mortgage crisis, and named a distinguished partner in oh, let's say Goldman, Sachs, to lead the investigation. Then, in the two years of the investigation, said worthy remained a partner in Goldman, Sachs. The report finds no one currently employed at that firm had anything to do with the problem.

The report would evoke rage, howls of laughter, or both. No one would give it the slightest credibility. Yet substitute Boston Red Sox for Goldman Sachs in the above paragraph, and you have the exact relationship of George Mitchell to major league baseball. It stinks. Mitchell would never touch a proposal like that in his real world life, because of the obvious appearance of conflict. Baseball? Ahh, who cares? It's not like there's any money at stake there.

For students of the human tragicomedy, the Mitchell Report and its aftermath have provided more than their fair share of belly laughs. One hardly where to start. For those who believe in baseball's eternal, changeless rhythms, perhaps the most amazing fact is this: Ballplayers paid for illegal drugs with credit cards and personal checks.

Never did that. Never met anybody who ever did that. The most toothless, brain-shot tweaker squatting in an abandoned subdivision in the Inland Empire knows better. Ballplayers don't. I'm not surprised. Neither is Ring Lardner.

For those who believe that America's political system works best in bipartisan co-operation, well, the immediate reaction in Washington to Mitchell's work had to be intensely satisfying. On the one hand, George W. Bush expressed vast disappointment in baseball at the White House.

Let's leave aside the moral issue of a man whose government is blockinng investigations into his own personal approval of torture commenting on somebody else's conduct. Narrow the focus. George Bush was president of the Texas Rangers in the early '90s, when steroid use began to take off in baseball, and the Rangers' clubhouse was one of its prime launching pads. Bush did not realize the report was a condemnation of his own conduct. But then, ask who covered the Rangers back then, or worked for them. Bush had no idea what was going on. Surprised?

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, announced he would hold hearings on Mitchell's report, calling Selig and Players' Association head Don Fehr in for grilling. Cable news live coverage, here he comes!

I respect Waxman, so I hope he'll take this question in that spirit. Tell me, Congressman. Exactly what part of the U.S. government will you be reforming and overseeing by examining the question of what Roger Clemens injected into his ass?

Like any drug, be it heroin, penicillin, or baseball statistics, steroids can be very bad for you. Sports depend on a level playing field, so performance enhancing substances are unfair practice, and should be sanctioned. Baseball is neither any better nor worse than society at large, so we shouldn't be surprised if greed, arrogance, and dopiness often pose problems for the game.

As the line between performance enhancing drugs (hit more homers) and actual medicine (stay healthy) shrinks, the "drugs in sports" issue is going to get grayer, not sharper. The whoop-de-do over the Mitchell Report indicates baseball will screw up the future as diligently as it screwed up its past.


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