The Mitchell Report and its effect

By Chuck Hobbs
Updated: December 26, 2007

FLORIDA — Former Maine Senator George Mitchell’s nearly two-year investigation into alleged steroid use in major league baseball confirmed what many baseball fans already suspected — that the modern game is fraught with frauds and cheats.

History will show that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn, two of the greatest modern sluggers and arguably the greatest modern pitcher, have used performance enhancing drugs over the past decade.

While scandals plague all sports, baseball, long considered “America’s Pastime,” continues to hold a special place in our societal consciousness because it spans generations.

Like other sports, baseball provides us with a few hours in which we can forget about the cares of daily life and concentrate on a child’s game played by grown men earning a proverbial king’s ransom.

It was to our collective chagrin that the Mitchell Report cited 84 known ball players for steroid use. It also reported that all 30 major league teams have at least one player involved.

Is this the worse scandal ever to stain the game? Most baseball historians would demur and argue that the 1919 Black Sox scandal, where eight Chicago White Sox players were ultimately banned from baseball for life, was greater because it involved players fixing games.

Are the steroid users the most morally corrupt individuals to play the game? Arguably not when considering that Pete Rose, one of the greatest hitters of all time, bet on games as a player and later as a manager.

Will the steroid scandal force Bonds, Clemens and others to be excluded from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? This question is difficult to answer. On one hand, with respect to Bonds and Clemens, much of their body of work was done well in advance of any alleged steroid use.

Further, there are other morally bankrupt individuals enshrined in the Hall of Fame, including Adrian “Cap” Anson, the Chicago White Stockings star whose “get that nigger off the field” comment is credited with segregating baseball in the late 19th Century, a separation that would not end until Jackie Robinson’s ascent in 1947.

On the other hand, both Bonds and Clemens use of performance enhancing drugs have given them competitive advantages over those who have not.

When the subject of steroids first arose I was taken back to Rocky IV, the 1986 film that doubled as a propaganda piece against the wiles of Soviet athletic steroid use during the last days of the Cold War.

In the film, the fictional Rocky Balboa takes on Ivan Drago, a Russian pugilist who secretly uses steroids in his pursuit of boxing glory. Prior to the final fight sequence, the film juxtaposes Drago’s training, which consists of high-tech machinery and large doses of steroids, to Rocky’s training in Siberia, which consists of running, chopping wood and mountain climbing. In the end, Rocky wins, proving that sweat equity always trumps artificial enhancements.

But does it really? It is commonly thought that modern baseball players have an easier time setting records because there are more teams in both divisions, which supposedly dilutes pitching and allows for more home runs. Despite this argument, some of the games best hitters, including Mo Vaughn and Andy Pettitte, are linked to steroid enhancements.

And though he denied it in a 60 Minutes interview, there are rumors that Alex Rodriguez, the power hitter who recently signed a 10-year, 300 million dollar contract extension with the New York Yankees, uses steroids too.

At a minimum, if the time periods contemplated within the Mitchell Report are ultimately corroborated by the players themselves, as Pettitte recently admitted, or Federal inquiry, then the punishments should include that any home run or strike out recorded since the initial use of steroids be invalidated or marked with an asterisk.

Commissioner Selig should go a step further and show some intestinal fortitude by banning and/or invalidating the records of those accused. The precedent for such action is the aforementioned 1920 Black Sox scandal, where baseball’s first commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned the accused for life despite the fact that no one was convicted in Federal court for their alleged involvement.

While most ordinary Americans continue to question whether athletes are worth the compensation that they receive, economists opine that the high salaries are market driven and will only increase.

For this reason, Congress must address the issue of steroids. My greatest fear is that there is some middle or high school athlete who dreams of being the first billion dollar ball player and is making a choice to ruin his health in obtaining this goal.

While athletes often insist that they should not be role models, they are, and impressionable minds will imitate their behavior, both good and bad. Like other illicit drugs, it is time for right thinking adults to enact measures to punish those providing these substances in criminal court while banning those who use them from sports for all eternity.

This would send a sufficient message that sports must involve fair play, both on the field and in the locker room.