Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So, about this Mitchell Report

It was necessary from a public relations standpoint, if only to get everyone, from blowhards like Colin Cowherd to Congressmen to altar boy Bob Costas, to back away... slowly... from the subject. (I promise, this is the only time you'll see Costas's name in the same sentence as Cowherd, who's been known to say Jose Canseco deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.) Bud Selig was correct when he told the assembled media in New York City that the cost of the report -- $20 million, $40 million, whatever -- is insignificant compared to the symbolic, Pilate-like gesture of washing the "steroids era" into the past and keeping it buried there among the ranks of trivia, alongside the skeleton of Pumpsie Green. I'm sure there were plenty of folks who had waited for the Mitchell Report with bated breath, if only to allow themselves that cathartic exhale -- I can imagine Jayson Stark, bleary-eyed, rocking back and forth in the fetal position while chanting, He negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland, he negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland...

But what did the Mitchell Report really accomplish? A glance at the backpage of the NY Daily News or NY Post (which, I admit, scored with its "Ike Beats Tina to Death" headline) might make you believe baseball was festering with witches, and that it was the solemn duty of newspapermen to seek them out and burn them on the page. "I DID IT," one headline screamed, with a picture of Andy Pettitte. "ROID RAGE?" asked a caption of this picture. New York's tabloids aren't exactly held to the strictest of standards -- or standards -- but their response to this three-ring circus is a symptom of a broader neurosis: our secret obsession with iconoclasm, perhaps rooted in our Protestant past. It's not good. It doesn't do our intellect any justice, it doesn't do justice to those unfortunate enough to have known Kirk Radomski, it doesn't do justice to the institution of sport, and it certainly doesn't cast baseball in a conciliatory light. Really, it needs to stop.

On the other hand, are we actually impressed with any of the names that appeared in the report? For a while, a rumor was circulating that Albert Pujols was going to be implicated -- that, as opposed to Mike Stanton, would have been news. But did we really believe Rogers Clemens never took steroids? (Personally, I was more shocked by this.) HGH, as you know, is best known for speeding up the body's recovery time, allowing one to work out longer, harder and more frequently. Read this story about Clemens and tell me his training regimen doesn't resemble the schedule of someone getting an extra boost. Pitchers aren't supposed to work like that, and for good reason: pitching is already an absurdly abnormal art, an act that places undue strain on tendons and ligaments, which means the body needs to rest after pitching, not get thrown back into the grinder.

Also, you'll recall that in July I wrote:

[Clemens] is aware of his legend and steers its manifestation in a creepy, unnatural, Johnny Darko-type way. The media, of course, has lapped this up. They fawn over him like he's a saint, when in fact he's kind of prissy, kind of a prick and, in all likelihood, kind of a steroids user.

He denies it, of course, even though it took him four days to issue a public statement. But would he testify under oath? Would he face a federal agent and risk a Bonds-like perjury conviction? Would he... you know these answers already. "I plan to publicly answer all of those questions at the appropriate time in the appropriate way," he said (in the statement). "I only ask that in the meantime, people not rush to judgment." You hear that, Waco kids? NO JUDGING!

You can't really blame Clemens for dodging the fastball, though. What would anyone in his situation have done? This brings me to another of the unintended consequences of this report: professional athletes have engaged in a game of oneupmanship to see who issues the best public statements. PR professionals around the country are having a field day. In just the past week, we've been treated to denials (Brendan Donnelly, David Justice), admittances (Pettitte), half-admittances (Brian Roberts) and what's an admittance? (Paul Lo Duca, Eric Gagne, Miguel Tejada.) Somehow, Jay Gibbons -- Jay freakin' Gibbons! -- has become the beacon of moral rectitude.

And now we're actually giving 15 minutes of airtime to people like Fernando Vina to hear him tell us he used HGH to recover from injuries, that he was injured and had to recover from injuries, that he never wanted to hit home runs but only had to recover from injuries, that he wanted to play longer but had injuries, that he's sorry he did it but he was an everyday player who was in 140-some games the year before and just needed to overcome injuries, that he never wanted to get big and hit home runs, just the injuries. I realize Vina is a Baseball Tonight analyst ("analyst"), but when it's not baseball season and I'm not drunk-ass bored on a Tuesday night, I really would rather not be subjected to Fernando Vina.

And all for what? I was on one of Southwest Airline's Boeing 737's this evening when I came upon this ad in Spirit Magazine: "Choose Life: Grow Young with HGH." The ad says, "This program will make a radical difference in your health, appearance and outlook. In fact we are so confident of the difference GHR can make in your life we offer a 100% refund on unopened containers." We've been obsessing over... an advertorial drug. A Band-aid in pill form. A protein shake with a kick. That's all this amounts to. HGH is a hormone that helps people recover, and here we are, watching some fairly intelligent people slobbering over themselves trying to explain why Mitchell Report Day was akin to the Second Great Rectification.

I'm not saying we should legalize all steroids and HGH, especially not in baseball (though Tom Farrey has a damn good case for legalizing HGH in the NFL, and I'm 100% in favor). But too we need to stop implying, by way of granting it undue attention, that HGH is a miracle drug that will instantly make you harder, better, faster, stronger (apologies to Daft Punk). To that end, athletes: please stop pointing to the fact that you didn't get harder, better, faster, stronger as evidence of your not taking the substance. Don't insult us. Maybe, working together (you hear that, Bud and the MLBPA?), we can all get through this and refocus on the game.

POSTSCRIPT: Tomorrow we'll look at this trade. In the meantime, Lee Warren and Craig Brown have the comprehensive list of Royals in the Mitchell Report (Warrnen; Brown), so do drop by there if you want to read more on this subject.

Also on IDWT: Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes and other problems with this steroids charade


  1. The biggest garbage about anyone's responses to the Mitchell Report so far have been Pettite, Vina, and whoever else says that they only took the stuff "to recover from injuries."

    Like "recovering from injuries" is something different than becoming better at baseball. IT'S THE SAME THING. Doping to help recover from injuries is doping to "enhance performance." You can enhance your performance when you're healthy OR when you're injured. Regardless it's artificially enhancing your performance. So Vina, Pettite, whoever else, it's not "just" taking performance enhancing drugs "to recover from injuries," it's TAKING PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS.

  2. Most ballplayers today are taking homeopathic growth hormone oral spray because it's safe, undetectable, and legal for over the counter sales. As time goes on it seems it might be considered as benign a performance enhancer as coffee, aspirin, red bull, chewing tobacco, and bubble gum.