Imperfect stars for an imperfect world…
It is rare that any sense of immediacy is involved when declaring an era in any sport. After Thursday’s release of the Mitchell Report, the "Steroid Era" has certainly been marked clearly and permanently in baseball’s history books.
What has been an on-going debacle for nearly a decade may have finally seen its first significant step towards beginning the reclamation of Major League Baseball’s good name, so to speak. And mind you, that is not because the Mitchell Report is the foremost word on what did and did not go on, but more simply it will be the impetus for our first look at the widespread manner in which steroids, HGH and other performance enhancing drugs soaked their way deep into the fabric of America’s pastime.
There will be a clarity that will only come in time, as those involved will more than likely be rooted out by personal admission or have it done for them by a supplier, trainer or one-time friend. But what is to become of these troubled souls who did, in the eyes of most, defame the level playing field and forever alter a history that stands firmly on numbers that signify greatness?
Baseball’s all-time home run king has been indicted and faces legal ramifications that could land him in jail before all is said and done. Once the lightning rod of the entire steroid equation, Bonds now has company – elite company at that. The greatest pitcher of his era, Roger Clemens, now faces the landslide of scrutiny at the hands of media skeptics, cynics, fans and those who solely thirst to get back to what was good about the grand old game.
Many are passionate that those involved with this performance enhanced scandal are now and will forever be known as cheaters. And perhaps, in the simplest form, that is true. But with the list of those involved having grown exponentially on Thursday, we no longer have the comfort of sitting back and casting all the blame squarely on the short list headed by Bonds. He, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and that grinning loon Jose Canseco were merely the first big names to be tied squarely to allegations of doping.
So, we have a nice tidy list of names boiled down on most sports sites and publications following a cursory first look at the Mitchell document. What has begun to resonate with me, from my inner fan to the years of my adult life spent working in and around the game, is that fact that the line between objective reporting and opinion oriented ranting has become incredibly blurred.
Don’t get me wrong, I have spent enough time on the internet to border on becoming socially dependent and I love sports talk radio, but the fact is that more and more people are becoming dependent upon these outlets to tell them how to feel about this topic.
Deep down we know that cheating is wrong. We were taught that as kids. Some of us have chosen to stick to mom and dad’s advice and live as closely to the words as possible.
I seriously doubt the tenacity of each individual who will pass judgment on those involved (those named in this report) to actually read the full report to properly put everything in context. The power of words and the ease in which they multiply in the internet age will easily sway the voice of public opinion. That doesn’t apply solely to sports. That is becoming a fact of life.
I’ve never been in the position to make millions of dollars, based mostly on my athletic ability to perform a task. I’m not much of a grand-scale entertainer. And for the most part, I still have age on my side. The future is still largely ahead of me. There is no medical shortcut that will take me to the places that I want to go as fast as I can physically get there. Sometimes I wish it was that easy.
I think the part that really stirs up the anger in most is that these athletes have already been gifted to a measure that many of us will never know and have never experienced. Why would their talent not be enough to satisfy them as professional athletes? We in the general public have followed the same model. You play until somebody says you aren’t good enough to proceed to the next level. Or simply, life happens. You lose interest, get hurt, or simply get over the desire to continue.
So getting back to the whole question of why a baseball player would want to enhance his performance on the field, I think it goes beyond simply wanting to have the edge. It goes beyond simple on-field performance. It’s been said by some, but not as many, that in some cases these are guys who are simply trying to put themselves in the position to maximize their earning potential.
As much as we would like to be able to point the finger of blame squarely at the men named in this report, I feel we should at least think about what any one of us would have done in what seemingly appeared to be a vacuum of look-the-other-way apathy that coated baseball throughout the 90s. No one had any reason to worry about getting caught, because no one in charge really seemed to care about addressing steroids. Baseball’s dirty little secret.
I shudder to think what would happen if an average American office was supplied with a supposed wonder drug that would increase the rate in which any one of us could climb the ladder and start earning the big money and leading the good life. How many average Joe’s do you think would take short cut? Even if they were told, ‘Hey this might shave a few years off your life,’ it wouldn’t stop many.
The funny thing about this whole hypothetical scenario is that it will never happen. Caffeine is the drug that permeates the office-place. That certainly won’t make you CEO. But I think we should take a look inside to see if no one was really checking, would we take the easy way? I’d like to say I wouldn’t… but the temptation would be hard not to succumb to.
We all have strong feelings about the many facets of the game. We love hustle, the diving catch, going first to third and a good hard slide. But somewhere between Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds our love of the home run may be the very thing that became too much for us to live without. The stolen base all but vanished as a high art and middle infielders started cranking 30+ homers on a yearly basis. How did it happen? I’ll leave that for you to ponder.
Are these guys villains? No. Are they performers? Yes. Are they always virtuous role models that we would like kids to be just like? No. Are they human beings born into the same set of flaws that we all have to live with? Yes. They just do it on national television. You invite them into your home with every game that is broadcast. And I guess, in the end, we expect our guests to follow the rules. Even if we do not.
Till next time,