Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report

Former Senate MajorityLeader George Mitchell just released his report regarding steriod use in baseball. The results aren't terribly surprising at a number of levels. Largely based on hearsay and testimony from suppliers, it appears as if steroid use was an institutional problem in baseball going back to the early 90s, accelerating after the 1994 strike. The report presented evidence (mostly circumstantial or based on secondary testimony) that major names such as Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield among many others used steriods, BALCO, or human growth hormones over the past 15 years. Additionally, according to statements made by former players and coaches somewhere between 20% and 50% of players were using performance enhancing drugs in the early 1990s. It looks like the moral outrage so focused on Barry Bonds has a lot of other targets--I am just curious how many will get hit with the same public ire as Bonds.

The other component of the report that isn't terribly surprising is that it lets the owners off the hook--at least in comparison to the Players' Association. Although the report indicates that baseball (owners and players) were "slow to develop" a response, by implication it suggests that the owners were interesting in doing something about steroids in the MLB but their efforts were obstructed by the Players' Association. According to the report, the Players' Association blocked testing for 20 years--which assumes that it was something the owners wanted. Following the 1994 strike, owners were very eager to get fans back in the seats, and what better way than increasing offense? Juiced players and juiced balls made the late 90s and early 2000s the most offense oriented era in baseball history. This was noticed by Joe Morgan who suspected steroids but states that he was discouraged from mentioning it on-air by ESPN because it might hurt viewership.

The fallout from the report is yet to be known. I hope it doesn't turn into a witch hunt, but I fear that it might with baseball weeding out the "bad apples" as a form of damage control. In reality the problems of baseball run much deeper. Steroids has been an institutional problem for two decades and I sincerely hope for the health of the players and of young people who aspire to be professional athletes that the owners and players can come to an agreement to effectively end steroid use while preserving the dignity of the players. Also, baseball has a salary and ownership problem. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer--and fans are frustrated. Is there any reason to think that the Pittsburgh Pirates have a chance for next year? And the season hasn't even started. And of course, baseball has an image problem. Steroids and an uncompetitive salary structure have turned America's past time into a farce.

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