If you live in the Western Hemisphere, you're probably aware that the Mitchell Report came out today. ESPN devoted some 6 hours of coverage to the press conferences of George Mitchell, Bud Selig, and Don Fehr today, interspersed with hotheaded murmurmings of a whole flock of talking heads.
I'm going to save my final assessment of the Mitchell Report until I've had a chance to read the thing (420 pages, but handily available in PDF format). But, inspired by Howard Bryant's thought-provoking column, I'm going to respond to the report's release not with more statements of fact, or alleged fact -- we've had our fill of that today -- but with questions.
What was Mitchell's agenda? Everyone has an agenda; some are just more damaging than others. Mitchell was a director in the Red Sox organization, but I don't think this greatly influenced his mindset. If Bryant's column is on the mark, Mitchell was acting more as a headhunter than as an arbiter of justice. So it's possible that Mitchell was just trying to collect as many names as possible to throw onto the front pages and then disguising it with level-headed rhetoric.
How reliable are these sources? The presence of Roger Clemens' name, for example, will cause most people who hear or read about the report to forever associate Clemens with steroids, essentially condemning him in their minds. That's awful, and it's one of the reasons that I don't like the report or even the idea of the report.
There isn't even the suggestion of some sort of due process here, and depending on what the report contains, there may not even be any sense of actually weighing evidence.
I'm sorry, but the statement of the Mets' clubhouse boy that he gave someone steroids is not enough to convince me of jack shit. If I were running this thing, I would insist that any testimony, report, or random list of names have corroboration from at least two other sources before I would consider putting someone's name in my damning report. Anything less would not only fail to meet the standards of responsible jurisprudence, it would fail to meet the standards of responsible journalism, which requires at least two sources before you stick your neck out and sully someone's name. I hope that when I read the full report I will find that Mitchell was meticulous in verifying these bits of rumor before printing them as fact.
If all the players are guilty of the charges, is this an appropriate sentence?
How many criminals are guilty of far, far worse than pharmaceutical malfeasance and never face a public reckoning? How many far more important and serious crimes went unnoticed today because of an announcement that someone might have taken an inappropriate pill or an illegal injection eight years ago. The fact that anyone could get so seriously angry about these events shows me just how incredibly misguided our ethical judgment is in this nation.
Many of the crimes listed in the Mitchell Report were either a) legal at the time of the offense (although his report does seem to focus mainly on the present day) or b) not against baseball rules at the time. Mitchell stated many times today that the players listed in his report had violated baseball rules, but that's patently untrue in many cases. Most PEDs were not against any sort of baseball rules until the 2002 CBA. There was the nebulous memo sent out by the Commissioner years earlier to "clarify" that PEDs were against baseball rules, but this has all the legal and practical value of a presidential belch. And if someone wasn't breaking the rules and/or the law, why in the name of heaven are they being put on the list of doom?
Where's the proof that PEDs make baseball players perform better?
It's thin. With anabolic steroids and the tougher stuff, there is loads of anecdotal evidence but no solid studies. There are things that we can say for certain that anabolic steroids do, but these things are only tangentially tied to baseball performance, and there's nothing out there to possibly quantify how great the effect is. When people guess how many home runs Barry Bonds would have hit without steroids, they have no f***ing idea what they're talking about, and we should call them on that.
As for HGH, there's far less proof that it helps baseball players much at all. In fact, not only are there no studies tying HGH to increased baseball performance, most knowledgeable people aren't even looking, because they don't even think it's likely. If there is a boost, it's likely minimal; caffeine and amphetamines would probably be a better performance-booster.
DID YOU HEAR THAT, AMERICAN SPORTS MEDIA? THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TYING HGH TO IMPROVED BASEBALL PERFORMANCE! SO WOULD YOU PLEASE SHUT THE F*** UP ALREADY!
What does it all matter?
Not much, really. I hate to hear that people cheat and attempt malfeasance, but that's nothing new in the world and certainly nothing new in baseball. All of the purists insist that there's something "dirtier" and different about steroids as cheating, as opposed to using a spitball or corking your bat. But they use the defense of "it just IS dirtier" or "if you have to ask, you'll never understand," all arguments showing irrefutable logic.
Will Roger Clemens be inducted into Cooperstown? Of course he will. Should we hold possible steroid use against him? Yeah, sure. But we should also hold against him that temper-tantrum he threw in the ALCS that got him kicked out of the game. And we should hold against him this past season with the Yankees. It's all part of the list of pros and cons, and any great attempt to give PEDs (they're not all steroids, ignorant masses) their own separate, dirty place in baseball history is silly and shows a flimsy grasp of the big picture.
All sports media figures are hereby served notice to shut up and not go on TV whining and complaining with the other talking heads about this. However, I will make them a promise: I will treat the Mitchell Report as the proof of an entire era of wrongdoing, if they meet one condition: write a report and go yell your heads off about the Collusion era of 1987-88, a much worse crime that anything Roger Clemens may have done with a syringe.
Do that, oh ye slaves of the idiotic zeitgeist, and then we'll talk.