Friday, December 14, 2007


July 4, 1995 I was at Commiskey Park in Chicago to see the Yankees play the White Sox. We had pretty decent seats and got there early. Beaver Cleaver and Eddie Haskel were on hand to throw out the first pitch. Rookie Andy Pettite came out of the dugout during batting practice and a bunch of kids clamored for his autograph. I had to look at the program to learn his identity. I was close enough that I heard him tell the kids that he had to warm up but afterwards he would come over and sign autographs for anyone who waited. He did exactly as he promised. It really impressed me at the time. The most disappointing part of the Mitchell Report for me was Pettite's culpability.

The report itself consumed my whole night. Fascinating report. The names have been all over the news and rightly so. It is very well laid out. What irks me is Mitchell's conclusion.

The first two points deal with the player’s responsibility and drug testing. The third one and beyond echo the post-Clinton zeitgeist.
Obviously, the players who illegally used performance enhancing substances are responsible for their actions. But they did not act in a vacuum. Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades – Commissioners, club officials, the Players Association, and players – shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread.

ESPN seems to be taking the attitude that Bud Selig should step forward and shoulder some of the blame. I can’t stand Selig, but blaming him allows the moral relativists to blame everyone and thus no one. It was the perfect approach from a former Senator trained to put together commissions to find answers and no solutions. This allows everyone to feel good about the study with a promise to be better next time with the built-in exercise that everyone will be to blame then too. The constant cycle that we can always be sorry and promise to be better.

Knowledge and understanding of the past are essential if the problem is to be dealt with effectively in the future. But being chained to the past is not helpful.

Nothing would be more helpful in the future than to match this capital offense with a capital punishment. This report without real consequences is an enticement to find and take the undetectable HGH.

Baseball does not need and cannot afford to engage in a never-ending search for the name of every player who ever used performance enhancing substances.

It’s their brand. If they want us to continue to wonder whether or not the game is fair then just stop now and pretend no one else is a wrong-doer.

The Commissioner was right to ask for this investigation and report. It would have been impossible to get closure on this issue without it, or something like it.

There is no closure without a penalty for the cheating.

But it is now time to look to the future, to get on with the important and difficult task that lies ahead. Everyone involved in Major League Baseball should join in a well planned, well-executed, and sustained effort to bring the era of steroids and human growth hormone to an end and to prevent its recurrence in some other form in the future. That is the only way this cloud will be removed from the game. The adoption of the recommendations set forth in this report will be a first step in that direction.

Looking to the future is the usual battle cry of the guilty who do not want punishment. Remember how impeachment was hurting the country because President Clinton needed to get on with the business of the American people? It’s not that he should have resigned to get the country back together but that we should just ignore the wrongdoing with a promise that he will be better next time.

The current players named in this report need to be booted from baseball. Those who retired should be ineligible for the HOF. It's a shame that so many people cheated, but they did it to themselves. The union could have prevented some of it early on by cooperating with proper testing, but they didn't make the players cheat either.

It was a shame what happened to Shoeless Joe. No one could ever prove that he actually cheated and his career was over and his HOF chances lost. How can you look at his example and then allow these cheaters to play or be in the HOF?

But the most important lesson of the Black Sox is that throwing baseball games stopped. The penalty was so high that it wasn't worth the risk. That's why you have to boot these guys. Without real consequences the problem is going to get worse not better. It's even admitted in the report that technology is always going to be further ahead than the testing. The only thing baseball has to combat the usage is the danger that detection will end careers.

After seeing Pettite in his rookie year, I probably saw the Yankees in person 12-15 more times in Spring training, regular season and even one World Series game. I never saw Pettite repeat his grand gesture to those kids. I didn't always have seats close enough to the action to hear him speak to the kids, but I sometimes did. I don't mean that I blame him, but I think that the 1995 Andy Pettite was excited to be in the big leagues. Having played the game as a kid and probably dreamed of getting autographs himself, the experience of signing was as much of a thrill for him as the kids. With time those kinds of feelings naturally subside and I'm sure they did with Pettite.

By the time Pettite took the HGH he was no longer thinking about those kids or being a kid. Baseball was a job now and he needed every advantage. I can understand the economic incentives that caused this cheating like I can understand the economic incentives of embezzlement. The difference is that the penalties for embezzlement are a lot more harsh than losing your job. And until penalties make it too risky this problem will continue.

I can forgive Pettite as a human being and understand his temptations, but his actions would have been different had Barry Bonds or Ken Caminiti or Mark McGwire been detected and booted in the late 1990s. Pettite with the rest of the names in this report need to pay the price now to prevent the next impressionable young player from following in their footsteps.


E said...

I am glad I did not have to wait long for your post on the Mitchell Report.

I agree with you that where everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. The "everyone was doing it" defense is a weak rationale, is not what any parent teaches their children, and was probably written by Selig.

I also agree that early and severe penalties could have stopped all this. Only consequences matter. Even now, 50 games is not an effective deterrent compared to the millions a player stands to gain by cheating.

Some are saying that the clean players are responsible for not turning in the dirty. But anyone who has ever been in the locker room knows that one player won't rat out another. The clean players have to be pissed, though, that the cheaters took money out of their pockets.

On ESPN Radio this morning, someone mentioned that Mitchell is a Director of the Boston Red Sox. If true, that should have been freely disclosed. I had not heard that until now. Maybe I just missed it. Whether that is a conflict of interest I cannot say. In any event, I understand that this was much more a political exercise than a legal one.

I listed to about an hour of sports talk this morning. The reporters like Gammons and Buster Olney made clear that there are plenty of big names still not disclosed, and that the Mitchell Report is still just the tip of the iceberg.

Fox Sports Radio, which is far more blunt and less suck-up than ESPN, spent some time wondering how you can spend $20 MILLION and get the neutered Mitchell Report which most people are saying doesn't shed much additional light on the situation. If you really want to know, and you're willing to spend $20m to find out, why not criminal investigations with subpoena power? I am so naive.

As for who gets in the HOF, some of the analysts are now saying that you have to assume that everyone in the era is dirty, so you still vote for the guys whose performance on the field separated themselves, so the process remains basically the same.

The general sentiment is that the real story is about more than baseball, that it's a sad day for America. But that makes it a teachable moment too.

E said...

Having reviewed the Mitchell Report, one of my colleagues noted that there were only two ex-Phillies on the list, and given all the other names on the list and the Phillies' lack of success during that stretch, he wishes more of the local boys had been guilty. Straight-ticket Democrat.

Dude said...

Sure, Mitchell is on the Red Sox payroll, but Selig IS the Brewers' payroll. These insiders need only look concerned not actually be concerned.

Landis was brought in to save the sport in 1920 and was well-known as a hanging judge. Gambling undermined the very legitimacy of the sport, whereas steroids have resulted in record attendance.

The game is not in danger, only the record books. All of the talk-radio discussions concern asterisks and Hall of Fame votes. The legitimacy of the games being played is not in question, only the legitimacy of the superhuman feats being achieved.

I think the Steroid Era is a direct descendant of the Free Agency Era. Once all the power in the sport was usurped by the players' union, this was unavoidable as salaries skyrocketed and knowing owners and executives had to sheepishly turn a blind eye to the growing drug culture so long as it produced revenues sufficient to field a competitive team.

The only way to really put the era to rest is to ban cheaters from the game just as Landis did, and the only way to do that is to get it written into the collective bargaining agreement that players detected to have used a banned substance are banned from the game. Because of the power of the players' union, that isn't going to happen. So the next best way to put the era to rest is to formally hire an authority to write up a report declaring that the Steroid Era has been put to rest and call it a day.

This is just my opinion, but I think it is up to the game of baseball to police its own product and in failing to do so, I don't understand the argument to exclude certain players from Hall contention. I think if they played the game and posted the numbers, then of course the numbers count and I wouldn't have an issue with voting for anyone with the proper credentials, regardless of whether they are a horse's ass or a doper. The whole era is tainted and that's why HOF eligibility should be some measure of a player's standard deviation from the norm. Maybe 300 HR or 400 HR is no longer a magic number, but you've still got to enshrine the era's best players, not get on the holy horse and deny a generation's worth of players based on your personal opinion of propriety.

E said...

Nice work Dude. I agree, some guys are jackasses and others cheaters, but you still have to put the bat on the ball, and you can have a separate wing for editorials on the steroid age. Steroids didn't put any extra bite on Clemens' cutter.

Tom said...

For years there have been valid arguments for ignoring the actions of Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose and inducting them into the HOF for their numbers. I don't see how baseball can now fairly induct the guys named in this report whose very numbers are in question.

And isn't Pete Rose after his admission being banned now because he is a horse's ass that Selig doesn't like?

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