Friday, December 14, 2007

Was that Bud Selig Talking--or Was it Mark McGwire?

In the wake of the publication of the Mitchell Report, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig sounded like he was channeling Mark McGwire's ill-fated appearance before Congress. McGwire infamously said, "I'm not here to talk about the past." Selig uttered virtually the same thing, echoing something that Senator Mitchell said earlier during his press conference when he officially released his findings: "Letting go of the past is hard, but it's often a necessary step if you are gonna deal with the problem in the future. I don't think baseball now needs to spend the next several years rummaging around in the past trying to find every single person who ever used performance-enhancing substances and try to punish them. I think what they need to do is to look to the future. How can you best prevent this from occurring in the future?"

If MLB is not going to at least try to figure out what happened in the past and do something to preserve the sanctity of its record book then why commission the Mitchell Report in the first place? Otherwise, this whole thing is just a dog and pony show so that Selig can shrug his shoulders and say that he did the best that he could to deal with the steroids issue, kind of like the impotent gesture he offered at the end of the 2002 All-Star Game that ended in a tie.

At his press conference, Selig came off, as usual, sounding like a well-meaning buffoon. Selig looked like the substitute teacher who can't believe that the students are firing spitballs behind his back and who can't figure out how to identify and punish the perpetrators. Of course, this situation is a lot more serious than spitballs. The integrity of the sport is at stake, as is the health and welfare of young athletes who look up to professional athletes and who feel compelled to take performance-enhancing drugs to keep up with their peers and to be like the stars who they admire.

Selig said that he has not read the complete report--which is odd since he commissioned it in the first place and will be charged with dealing with its aftermath--and he kept repeating his mantra about bringing closure to what happened in the past so that MLB can now look toward the future. The performance-enhancing drug (PED) using cheaters won World Series titles and MVPs while setting numerous records. The MLB record book is now covered in steroid-soaked graffiti and that mess must be cleaned up. Track and field has taken a great step by striking Marion Jones' results from its record books. Here is what MLB should do, at the very least: every single player who MLB has good reason to believe to be a cheater should have a giant "M" (for "Mitchell Report") placed by his career statistics. When more cheaters are discovered in years to come (keep in mind how long it took to find out what Jones did), put an "M" by their names, too. Anyone who consults the record book should be informed in no uncertain terms that those numbers are tainted. It may never be possible to completely restore the record book to a pristine state but MLB owes the fans something more than saying that we should not "talk about the past."

Sometimes it is said that steroids were not banned by MLB until 2002. That disregards the fact that steroids and PEDs are illegal to use without a prescription but the Mitchell Report goes even further by noting that MLB's 1971 drug policy prohibited the use of prescription medication without a valid prescription and that steroids were explicitly mentioned in the sport's 1991 drug policy: "Steroids have been listed as a prohibited substance under the Major League Baseball drug policy since then," the Mitchell Report flatly states; what changed in 2002 is that the owners and the players union agreed on a drug testing plan for the first time.

No one should buy the argument that if MLB cannot identify every single player who used PEDs that it should not punish anyone. If the police cannot catch every single criminal then should all criminals be set free? It just does not work that way. If you break an MLB rule--and break the law on top of it--then you run the risk of being caught, being publicly embarrassed and being punished.

Roger Clemens is the most prominent player mentioned in the Mitchell Report other than Barry Bonds. Already, some people are claiming that Bonds has been the victim of racism because he has been pilloried for years, while Clemens has received a free pass. The flaw in this thinking is that Bonds' name emerged years ago in the Balco proceedings; after that, the book Game of Shadows made an overwhelming case that Bonds cheated and that his cheating played a major role in increasing his production. Until now, no such case could be made against Clemens but now that his name is in the Mitchell Report he should be subjected to the same scrutiny that Bonds has faced; in fact, at least one writer has already declared that Clemens is no different than Bonds. Prior to publishing his report, Mitchell informed Clemens of the information that he had obtained about him and offered him an opportunity to defend himself and Clemens declined, so don't pay any attention to sob stories coming from Clemens' camp about how unfair it is that his name is mentioned in the report.

Selig has never accepted responsibility for his own role in this mess. He presided over the sport when a labor stoppage canceled the 1994 postseason and then he and his minions looked the other way as PED usage proliferated because the resulting home runs filled the owners' coffers and put MLB back on the map after that 1994 fiasco. The end result is that the owners got rich, Selig got rich, the players got rich and few of the guilty parties will ever pay a price for what they have done to the national pastime. Who got stuck with the bill for all of this? The fans who bought tickets, MLB licensed merchandise and the products advertised during TV broadcasts of MLB games. Come next spring, the stadiums will be full, the cash registers will be ringing and all will likely be forgiven and forgotten. Maybe Bud Selig actually is smarter than he looks--he and his sport have not only perpetrated a huge fraud on the American public but became fabulously wealthy while doing so.

1 comment:

R. LeBaron said...

Very nice post with several good points. When you asked "Who got stuck with the bill for all of this?" I can't help but think that players from an earlier era such as Aaron, Mantle, Mays, Killebrew ect. are the ones who suffer the most. These are guys who did it the right way. It makes me sick to see names like Bonds, Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa passing up legends on the all-time homerun list.