The Mitchell report, compiled by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell after the better part of two years’ work, was released last Thursday—casting a dark and damning shadow over steroid use over the past decade-and-a-half in Major League Baseball.
Without a doubt, the document represents one of the biggest moments ever in that sport.
Mitchell names names and covers much throughout the document—and makes a number of recommendations to MLB.
He suggests baseball emphasize drug testing, better educate its players, and move on from the 10 years after 1994’s work stoppage that forever will go down as the sport’s steroid era.
Unfortunately, nowhere in the report’s 311 pages does Mitchell suggest what fans should do to digest the information. If only it were so easy.
The allegations in the report are clear—and at times startling. The swath of players linked to the use of steroids and human growth hormone runs from the all-time greats to players with little more than a cup of coffee in the big leagues.
Some names are surprising. Most are not. What is surprising is to finally see the curtain peeled back, and to get a sense of what it really means when people throw around predictions that as much as a third of all big-league players were juiced before random drug testing came in just a few years ago.
It means players like Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Gagne—should these thorough allegations be true—have been cheating for years. League MVPs, World Series MVPs, Cy Young winners, Gold-Glovers, all-stars, and all manner of decorated ballplayers are now forever linked with steroid use in the sport.
With all 30 MLB clubs well represented in the report, how does the fan react to the news that some of their favourite players have been abusing performance-enhancing substances at some point in their career?
A common thread that runs throughout the document is that players used under pressure—feeling that staying clean meant losing their job to a juiced minor-leaguer.
But how much of the blame should be assigned to the individual, and how much of the steroid culture is the fault of baseball and the player’s association for letting the whole mess spiral out of control?
There’s an important secondary issue underneath all these questions. While Mitchell’s report brings up plenty of names (and quite possibly those of the most high-profile and egregious offenders), it most likely just scratches the surface.
Mitchell himself states in the report that it is “obvious” that “there is much about the illegal use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball that I did not learn.”
One can boo the likes of Rondell White while ignoring another player in the same game who wasn’t connected to the likes of BALCO, Mets’ clubhouse attendant and drug dealer Kirk Radomski, or the collection of so-called “rejuvenation centres” selling drugs over the Internet, both of which are discussed in the report.
That being the case, should the fan judge the players who were caught but applaud those also guilty of a widespread crime simply because they were caught?
Should a fan differently judge a player like Troy Glaus, who abused only during a time frame in which he was recovering from an injury and purchased testosterone from a doctor who was only years since suspended for his practice, than the likes of Clemens and Barry Bonds, who used a number of drugs for many seasons to extend their already stellar careers long past their twilight years?
Some players will never recover their reputation. Clemens, the greatest pitcher of a generation and arguably of all time, without any doubt will have his Hall of Fame future clouded to some degree—unthinkable given his many records and accomplishments.
“The Rocket,” despite his previous difficulties staying retired, looks grounded for good now.
Worse off is Gagne. Sure, he may have just signed a one-year, $10-million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, but the Montreal native has more smearing his name than just his alleged HGH use.
The report mentions correspondence held while the Boston Red Sox were looking to acquire Gagne in a trade from the Texas Rangers earlier this year.
Red Sox scout Mark Delpiano, in an e-mail to general manager Theo Epstein, said Gagne “[l]acks the poise and commitment to stay healthy, maintain body and re invent (sic) self,” adding his 2003 Cy Young-winning, 55-save season was the result of only Gagne’s “max effort plus stuff.”
Forgive the Red Sox if they were less than surprised by Gagne’s late-season collapse.
But while some of the allegations are explosive, most are harder to digest, like former first baseman Wally Joyner, who said he struggled with a decision to use steroids late in his career, taking them but thrice before throwing out his supply.
Not career-affecting, just a dumb mistake, but one far more easy to understand than some of the dumb mistakes professional athletes make.
Can a fan come back and cheer on a player implicated in the report? What does a parent tell their child to explain their favourite player being named by Mitchell?
Tough questions, and they aren’t answered by the former senator. Instead, to borrow and paraphrase what Mitchell recommends to Commissioner Bud Selig, the public should give the players the chance to make a fresh start, except where the conduct is so serious that they feel to do so would offend their own integrity.
Forgive, don’t necessarily forget, but find a way to move on. It’s what any of us would want were we in their position.
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