Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's all just so unspeakably sad

The Mitchell Report is out now, and it’s all just so unspeakably sad. There’s more than enough blame to go around. From the stars who determined that they were willing to do whatever it took to fight the natural pace of aging in the modern athlete, to the bit players who followed suit just to stay on a big league roster, to the training staff who either assisted or pretended not to know, to team and league management who willingly and consciously turned a blind eye to the corrosion in the game and rationalized the outrageous statistics as being the harbinger of a new age of great ballplayer, to the players’ union who insisted that drug testing was nothing more than an invasion of privacy, and therefore completely unacceptable (and subsequently refused to cooperate in any way, shape or form with the Mitchell probe). And don’t forget the great titans of the press who winked and refused to acknowledge the 800 pound elephant in the middle of the room, some of them now decrying the Mitchell Report as being either inadequate or fundamentally compromised because Senator Mitchell is on the board of the Boston Red Sox. Everyone involved bears guilt, blame and responsibility for the fraud that was perpetrated on the American public for a generation.

What are we left with now? It’s impossible to know what to make of the statistics that baseball fans treasure so reverently. How many of Barry Bonds’s homers “count”? Should one (or more) of Roger Clemens’s Cy Young Awards be ignored due to some number of the strikeouts and wins having come out of a needle? Which ones? Which years? How about Andy Pettitte? Ken Caminiti? Jose Canseco? Mark McGwire? Should one (or more) of the Yankees’ World Series championships not count now? How many others *not* named in the Mitchell Report were involved? How many of the players who were named in the Mitchell Report were named incorrectly? What if Clemens and Tejada and Jack Cust and Brendan Donnelly and Mo Vaughn are actually innocent? What if they’re not? Should their accomplishments be stripped from the record books like Marion Jones’s Olympic medals? All of them? Some of them? Starting when? Ending when?

Or should we just accept that like it or not, it happened, stop worrying about the past and just move on now? That last one might be the best and easiest idea, but it isn’t possible. Baseball is all about history, more than any other sport on the landscape. All of us have to come to terms with this era somehow.

Personally, there are things I’d like to see happen. They certainly won’t, of course. I’d like to see both Bud Selig and Donald Fehr resign their positions and allow baseball to move on with a new sense of responsibility and impetus for change. I’d like all current players named in the report to end their careers immediately, and see MLB (and Minor League Baseball, as well) permanently suspend any player who tests positive from here on in. Zero tolerance. One strike and you’re gone. No appeal. Playing professional baseball is a privilege, not a right. Deal with it. That might send a clear message to kids that if you use these substances, your hope of playing organized baseball is nil.

I agree with Senator Mitchell in that there’s no sense in punishing players for transgressions that took place years or decades ago. Writers will have to decide on their own what to do in evaluating Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Sheffield and others when it comes time for Hall of Fame consideration. I don’t envy them that dilemma.

But no matter how it happens, change has to be serious, far reaching, and immediate. Baseball has faced literally dozens of crises in its history, including labor relations, gambling, race, free agency. It has weathered these storms and come back each time, stronger than ever. It needs to do it again, or else nobody will care who wins, who loses, who breaks a major record or who is inducted in Cooperstown.


vard said...

I hope you noticed that the NYT found a photo of Clemens in a Blue Jays hat to illustrate their story....

Anonymous said...

It's all a joke. And I agree if you are a current player & were named ... you should be OUT. Roger is still maintaining innocence. But how long can he do that with Andy coming out & admitting to it?