Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yes, George, What about the kids?

The money-shot has, finally, been delivered in Bud Selig's two-year-long steroid porno. We've read the Mitchell Report — or allowed Deadspin to point out the most interesting sections — and we've seen the tedious press conferences by the author and the benefactor, who should have at least held hands at some point for posterity's sake. We may have witnessed the moment Roger Clemens, considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, became the next sure-fire Hall-of-Famer to see his shot at Cooperstown go down the shitter (it should go without saying that if Clemens isn't disqualified after the Mitchell Report, then Mark McGwire should be giving another nationally televised speech in the next couple of years, during which he can again not talk about the past). And we've become intimately familiar with the next wave of steroid scapegoats, a marvelous cross-section of baseball players that doesn't discriminate based on talent or active playing status.

None of this has made me care any more about steroid use than I did before, a position that's apparently quite popular if one is to believe that internet pundits and comment-writers constitute an accurate sample of sports fans. Yes, of course, I would prefer to follow sports without the knowledge that the men involved are actively partaking in sado-masochism to better entertain me and bolster their personal finances. But I've also never thought "fair-play" was an option in sports, and I take bemused pity on anyone naive enough to think that such a fantasy is attainable. I find it hard to believe that members of a society unable to convince people to stop murdering — even with the threat of the ultimate punishment looming should one take a life — thinks that any testing policy will significantly negate the desire to cheat, not to mention stop cheating among even a majority of those who have done so in the past. That doesn't mean you don't ban and constantly improve testing measures, it just means that you must accept the existence of impropriety in athletics just as you do in all other walks of life. It is enough to state unequivocally that cheating is wrong — something baseball didn't do until a few years ago — clearly state the punishment for cheating, and hope that you've convinced the fence-sitters that it's probably a better bet to drink a little more Red Bull and quit staying up so late before day games.

(Side note 1: Please, everyone, stop saying the "Steroid Era" — as obnoxious and sanctimonious a label as any in the history of sports — is actually over. Steroids haven't gone anywhere. Steroid users haven't gone anywhere. Steroids are still being taken by baseball players, maybe even a lot of baseball players. The horse is out of the motherfucking barn; this isn't like the "Cracker Era" in baseball, which was ended by Robinson's breaking of the color barrier. The "Steroid Era" in baseball will exist until an even better method of cheating comes around and makes steroid use passé.)

(Side note 2: I love — LOVE — that amphetamines didn't so much as merit a mention in Mitchell's report. For $20 million dollars over two years, you could at least be thorough.)

Anyway, what really got me — I almost did a spit take on my hamburger when I heard this at the bar during lunch — was Mitchell upping the sancti-ante my giving us the well-worn "What about the kids?!?" line. That kind of drivel is sickening in any occasion, but Mitchell using it to prop up baseball's criminal overreaction to decades of passive acceptance of PED use was about as scummy as it could get. Not that I should expect anything better from a former federal congressman, but every so often I'm still stunned at the gall of people who believe that pre-adolescents make for handy metaphorical human shields.

Now that I've calmed down, my almost paralyzing desire to break Mitchell's left orbital has subsided. But I'd still like to throw his own mealy-mouthed question back in his face. What about the kids, you cocksucker? Because I think that baseball's steroid "investigation" has set a far worse moral example for today's youth than anything F.P. Santangelo did with his ass, a needle and perhaps his closest personal-training buddy.

If we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then the kids should believe there's nothing wrong with applying wide brushes when condemning individuals. The "list" — not the fake one released hours before the Mitchell Report which was, stunningly, to be found on the web sites of "legitimate" news delivery agencies (hear that, SAS?) — is presented as a context-less recitation of "users" everywhere it's to be found. Are we to believe that Paul Byrd and Andy Pettitte are both guilty of the same crimes, to the same degrees? Further, are we to believe there's equal evidence of the guilt of both men? Of course not. But Mitchell's use of names invited a situation in which all alleged users — and I'd bet the house that a not-insignificant portion of the men on that list shouldn't be on itare considered cheaters of the same magnitude and with the same amount of proof. Remember, kids, that it's OK to generalize provided you're doing it under the banner of righteousness.

If we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then the kids should believe that it's OK to injure others based on hearsay and zealotry. Because, as far as I can tell, all Mitchell has to offer about Clemens and Pettitte, the two biggest names indicted by the report, is the testimony of a potentially jilted ex-personal trainer and his supplier. No corroboration, no lie detector test, no actual evidence of steroid use outside of the "sworn testimony" of two guys and the willingness of the rest of us to allow our suspicions to be so easily confirmed. Yes, there's some fairly damning, hard evidence about others that was uncovered by the Feds in various raids, but that's not the case with the two gentlemen who spent the most time on the ticker during Mitchell's press conference. I'm shocked, frankly, that Mitchell didn't take the now-popular path of talking to ballplayer's ex-mistresses and presenting their testimony without reservation. Remember, kids, that the ends always justify the means.

If we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then the kids should believe it's acceptable let others take the punishment for a misdeed you participated in, provided you can cop to plausible deniability. Why haven't we seen a gigantic, explosive, above-the-virtual-fold columns condemning Brian Sabean's tacit acknowledgment of Bonds' steroid use (and encouragement, in the fashion of offering Bonds another contract after Stan Conte had made it very clear that Bonds was juicing), which was documented in the report? And Sabean wasn't the only one; I refuse to believe that most coaches, GMs and owners were in the dark about this shit. Men cannot simultaneously be intelligent enough to run massive organizations and dumb enough to not have a fucking clue what its employees are up to in the goddamn clubhouses. Mitchell made mention of "shared responsibility," and deserves credit for not cracking a smile when doing so. His report has laid this problem squarely on the players and given the administrators a token reprimand for playing dumb. Everyone knew what was going on, and the money men encouraged it by lavishing the users with millions of dollars and ridiculously long contracts. Remember, kids, that shit always rolls downhill, so just make sure that you're rich if you're going to do something wrong.

And, finally, if we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then kids should learn to celebrate the ethics of the snitch. The parts of this report that weren't based on seized evidence were based on the testimony of those who had something to gain by implicating others in their crimes. It's nice to know that, should I ever be a part of a criminal conspiracy, I have currency with my captors so long as I'm caught first. Right after high school baseball players are handed a first-person testimonial about the dangers of steroids written by the remorseful hand of Jason Giambi on his personalized stationary, they should receive a concise explanation of "The Prisoner's Dilemma," and understand how the proper manipulation of game theory can likely one day emancipate them from punishment for misdeeds, or at the very least mitigate that punishment. Remember, kids, to rat early and rat often. Maybe one day, you'll be best known for destroying the life of someone much more popular and successful than you.

Just don't take steroids. We beg of you. Anything but steroids.


M.M. said...

I was on narcotics when I wrote that this was the end of an era. I should have written that the Mitchell Report symbolizes the end of an era. If not for you, if not for a majority concerned, Selig Mitchell and have simply failed in their endeavor.

Without question cheating will continue. But baseball is trying to return to an equilibrium. The same way professional baseball responded to gambling and spitballers is echoed here: slowly and inconsistently, while trying to please everyone.

This is Selig's best effort to get steroids out of the national spotlight. He didn't want to do it, but felt he couldn't afford not to and said as much.

It was disappointing that the report dissolves into an annotated list of names. Would the Brian Roberts/Larry Bigbie admission have been fit to print? Peter Gammons seemed pretty upset with that account.

Last ramble before I try to wrap this up. Inside of thirty minutes to the release of the Mitchell Report, Albert Pujols was to be one of the names named. I can't remember if this was on the scroll at the bottom or from Bob Levy. Was that ever followed up? Or was that the narcotics again?

IMHO, baseball's steroid era has ended. The biggest steroid stories are in the past. The biggest HGH stories are in the future. What's next, what's out there beyond steroids. On the horizon, that's were the best cheaters reside.

Jeff said...

I'm torn in many respects as to my opinion of the report. I don't have Diesel's gift to formulate very defined, well-written conclusions/opinions on such tough subjects.

The difficult part to me, somewhat alluded to by Diesel, is the fact that players were named, and they are all branded as cheaters - regardless of their level of use or if they benefited from it at all. I don't think David Justice is a cheater; I just can't get there. I heard him defend himself and I believe him. I don't believe Clemens - probably because he's not addressing the purported facts...he's just going after the accuser personally.

If you accept that the report was being compiled, for right or wrong, and it was going to name some players, then the players named become (from one point of view) unfairly damaged because so many "cheaters" were not outed. The fact that the players, except Giambi, stonewalled the investigation resulted in a report that was disproportionately damaging to the players named. But it's the players themselves who caused this. We're left not knowing who's clean, just a few dozen guys who probably weren't.

So should we feel bad for Roger Clemens, who may go from a top 5 pitcher ever to a yearly debate for HOF inclusion because of this report? Or should Clemens have volunteered to talk to Mitchell to clear everything up (if he's innocent, or to confess if not). Clemens inaction has exacerbated his situation. Who's fault is that? Was he specifically asked to be interviewed by Mitchell? (I don't know) The reality is that, if he's guilty, he sat tight hoping that he wouldn't be among those named and life would go on. He rolled the dice and he lost, but many players won.

If all players had been forthwright (not possible I realize) and all "cheaters" (and the degree to which they used) were outed, then we would have the proper context to evaluate the findings. But they didn't want to tell Mitchell's people anything, so Mitchell had to piece it together...and this is what that has yielded. For that reason I think the players named are unfairly singled out, but I don't really feel bad for them.

The players named will have to address the allegations themselves (as Justice did on Cowherd's show) and hope that the fans that hear the stories believe them. But we're unlikely to hear the rebuttal as loudly as we heard the accusation, unless the player sues.