MITCHELL REPORT DELIVERS ANOTHER BLOW TO BASEBALL
Though many will argue that ignorance does not mean bliss, for many baseball fans, they could do without a lot of the information they have heard, particularly that the greatest right-handed pitcher of the modern era probably used steroids.
The 409-page report issued by former senator George Mitchell implicated Roger Clemens as a steroid-user, detailing particularly interactions between Clemens and a trainer in Toronto and New York.
My personal reaction: This is the darkest day for baseball since I have been old enough to understand it. I was barely into T-ball when the Pete Rose gambling scandal hit the press. I do remember the 1994 strike, but my fondest baseball memories came post-strike anyway. Hands down, hearing that so many players "cheated" bummed me out more than any other scandal. But then I started to think. Did they really cheat?
The Clemens camp vehemently denied the accusations, but the detailed testimony of Clemens' former trainer would be tough to fabricate. Clemens himself has remained silent on the issue, speaking through his lawyer. That fact alone makes him guilty in the court of public opinion.
The report also confirmed what we already knew: Barry Bonds used steroids from the BALCO lab, though his story is still "he didn't know they were steroids." A federal jury will determine that.
Ex-Cleveland Indians David Justice and David Segui were mentioned in the report, marking the only Indians from the power-hitting "glory days" to have accusers, a bit of a surprise to me. (In a cynical, vindicative way, I was clamoring for my childhood hero Jim Thome to be named.) The only saving grace for the Tribe is that none of their traning staff has ever been subpoenaed, leaving most of the limelight to ballplayers who made careers in New York or the Bay Area, as Miguel Tejada, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi all used while playing for the Oakland A's.
I have some baseball-enthusiast friends who have minimalized the report's release, saying, "Everyone was using back then. We'd rather not know about it and just try to forget the whole thing ever happened."
Baseball, though, is a sport that survives based on the fact that we can't forget what happens. It's a sport that built its popularity on records and numbers, records and numbers that are inevitably skewed by an era of rampant performance-enhancing drug use.
Though not named in the Mitchell Report, Tribe pitcher Paul Byrd confessed to human growth hormone use in 2002. Though HGH is on the banned substance list now, it wasn't then, and Byrd maintains he took the substance at the advice of a doctor and because he was recovering from elbow surgery.
Did he cheat? That's dicey. It really depends on whom you ask.
If you ask me, and if you're reading this, you essentially are, "cheating" is a knowing and intentional breaking of rules to give one an advantage. The rules on steroid use in baseball have toughened, and the number of violations has decreased (though reported violations have gone up because of positive testing.) This "stuff" coming out of the woodwork from years ago comes from times when the banned substance list contained many loopholes and a unified message of "We don't do this thing in baseball" was absent. Of course, then, that some of the world greatest competitors who depend on on-field performance will push the limits of legality. They will take whatever means they can to gain an advantage.
Commissioner Bud Selig gets the "response" half-right. The plan to test for steroids is fine. The plan to retro-actively punish active players for use in the past (possible suspension of Andy Petitte et. al.) is wrong. The game has changed, and it is closer to the pure, innocent game Americans love, and some integrity has been restored. We have to accept that like there was a Dead Ball Era, there was also a Steroids Era. Little by little, that era is ending.
It's tough for me, though, because I fell in love with the game during that era, and I'm left knowing more about my childhood heroes than I wanted to know.