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The International Writers Magazine: US Sport & Politics

Baseball Through the Looking Glass
James Campion
Hypocrisy & Incongruities In The Mitchell Report


After twenty years of reportedly ten percent of its players' steroid, speed, drug, and hormone abuse, Major League Baseball's $40 to 60 million non-legally-binding, no-retribution band-aid to keep the United States government from removing its atavistic, monopolistic Anti-Trust Exemption came down (12/13/07).

Named for its author and lead investigative council, former Maine Senator George Mitchell, who was hired by the commissioner's office (on the payroll of the collective ownership of baseball) and who currently sits on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox, and did not include the co-operation of the Players Association, including having no subpoena power or, incredibly, access to positive drug tests, is one of the most extraordinarily useless endeavors undertaken by a business policing itself.

Known for its unabashed mismanagement by power-mad greedheads and ridiculously paid pampered athletes, MLB took what the Mitchell Report decried as a widespread drug frenzy on all 30 teams and narrowed it down to the already exhausted BALCO investigation results and the hazy recollections of highly motivated middlemen into a mere, to quote Mitchell himself, "tip of the iceberg".

If baseball fans thought they were getting the full story on two decades of steroid and human growth hormone use they were sadly mistaken. Mitchell's hands were tied. Evidence was spotty. The Union stonewalled him. The league had to protect itself. He was left to grab and claw for scraps, and scraps are what we got.

The report accuses, primarily on the strength of testimony provided by a convicted criminal and an FBI-threatened drug dealer, some 90 players of using illegal substances to enhance their performances. Some of the claims are arbitrary and some flat out circumstantial. Most remarkably its results levees no penalty beyond salacious rendering of mostly player names that have been more or less celebrated as world-class juicers for a decade anyway. It also omits players who have not only already failed drug tests but have all but admitted through their actions, after displaying as much through off-the-charts performance, that they are guilty.

If there is such a thing as guilt, since many of these players juiced before it was banned, enforced, or even acknowledged as technically cheating.

So in the end, this expensive exercise in innuendo and he said/he said is at best incomplete and at worse a sloppy exaggeration or outright fabrication. Begun with the best of intentions: Clean up the game, like the Kenneth Starr investigation once attempted to "nail" Bill Clinton on illegal land deals but ended in ignominy, the Mitchell fiasco ends with half-assed insinuations by two guys who worked in only two clubhouses in one city.

By all accounts inside and outside the game, the list's compilation of infractions is something like one to two percent of a sport that only four years ago reported the failure of nearly 300 of 1,500 players tested for some kind of illegal substance. There were still around 2,000 players not tested. And these tests were previously announced! These guys knew it was coming and still failed!
    Oh, and none of the guys who failed were allowed to be included in this "thorough" investigation.
    Ninety players fingered for steroid and HGH use in modern baseball is like saying a couple of hundred people died in the Civil War.

The wounded integrity of MLB takes another hit when it was revealed that its offices were allowed to peruse the report three days prior to its release, leaving more doubts as to whether a sport that turned its back on years of performance enhancement mania, and in any sane observation even encouraged it, has the balls to come clean on its product.
And by the way, the player's union did not have the same courtesy. Player's Association head, Donald Fehr, who tried to block what he deemed a disregard for fair disclosure, claimed later that day he had less than an hour before the report was made public to skim it.

Anyone who even cares about baseball has to admit this was not a big deal. If anything, this charade by Selig and the league, conducted unilaterally and beyond the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement with the Player's Association, could actually damage the bottom line: Ending the Steroid Era. Lord knows it is not concentrated over 90 players in a few cities unlucky enough to be subjected to the hearsay of jock-sniffers, but endemic of the national sports scene and a mockery on the history of the game's records and legacy.

This would be like paying someone a shitload of money to build you a boat with no tools or materials and being surprised when it sinks. A band-aid.

As covered in this space two years ago ("Everything You Wanted To Know About Steroids But Were Afraid To Ask" 2/23/05) the problem was well known by everyone associated with baseball, and really, all sports, including players, owners, front office personnel, journalists, networks covering the sport for a long time. Occasionally, articles in prominent periodicals like Sport Illustrated and other scattered journalistic investigations shed light on a culture of steroid abuse from high school through professional sports. But in 1994 when the issue came up in the collective bargaining farce run by commissioner Bud Selig, (much of which is covered in my second book, "Fear No Art"), after the owners, under the direction of Selig, staged a lock-out and closed down the sport, canceling the World Series, it was not only ignored but thrown out as a possible deterrent to "figuring financial concerns".

Those concerns were again addressed in the late nineties as players jacked on steroids and other forms of doping began to obliterate records and enthrall the nation with home run chases. Yet glowing books were written. Sonnets of heroism were penned. Statues of immortals were erected.

Baseball, prior in 1994, went from a distant third in popularity among professional sports and probably fifth or sixth overall. Its resurgence in what is now reported to be a $6 billion industry is not because of integrity, jack, but players doing amazing things. A preponderance of which were enhanced by some kind of substance.

Now the sport, its questionably credible commissioner, and a private council paid for by the owners, who have a $6 billion interest invested in this business, ask us to look to the future and put it all behind us?

Aside from burying that jackass Roger Clemens, all this report did was give you the smallest glimpse into an impregnable landscape of sordid details and complicated mazes of systematic paranoia that exists in the modern professional athlete. A manic rage to achieve greatness no matter the consequence, no matter the cost is reviewed nicely.

By day's end there were rumblings of more names coming from further investigations and new evidence on the horizon. And Roger Clemens, the era's greatest pitcher joining the era's greatest hitter, Barry Bonds in infamy is now calling the report "slanderous".

Name calling. Vague recommendations. Wasted time. Money pissed away. Just to get down on paper the smallest percentage of the ultimate goal, a goal that is ambiguous and self-serving, leaving room to continue business as usual.

Yes, well, a congressman was in charge and a multi-billion dollar industry bankrolled it. That's sounds about right.
Carry on.

© James campion Dec 15th 2007
realitycheck@jamescampion.com

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