What’s my reaction in the aftermath of the Mitchell Report? Plain and simple, it’s anger. It’s not anger over the report itself, but anger toward so much of the internet reaction to the report. I keep hearing calls for amnesty, that what’s in the past is in the past, and that it’s time to move on. All of that sounds very fashionable and stylish, but it’s a dangerous slope to be treading. If we call for amnesty for steroid users, then how far away are we from calling for amnesty for more serious crimes, including crimes of violence and hatred? Why exactly are we so willing to give amnesty to some lawbreakers, while not to others? Why is drug abuse treated as such a throwaway item by so many who share the liberal viewpoint on the world?
More to the point, why is the statute of limitations on steroid use–not in a legal sense but from a public perception standpoint–only 10 or 12 years? If you were to believe some of what you were reading, you would think that some of the information in the Mitchell Report is 30 years old, ancient history of some sort, from some long-forgotten era. Well, it’s not. This is recent history, most of it culled from the last decade, from a time after the internet first became relevant. And what kind of a message does it send that we are so willing to let the abusers of steroids—these recent violaters of the law—off scot-free? I’m sorry, but I’m not so willing to let the perpetrators, especially the ones who are still playing the game, off so easy. In addition to the embarrassment and shame they should be feeling today, they should feel a little bit of pain in their wallets—and to their playing time. I’m not calling for anyone to be banned from baseball, but I do appreciate some form of punishment being attached to the crime.
I’m also angry about the continued denials from some of the ballplayers mentioned in the report. The lies continue to be spread, even in the face of mounting, incriminating evidence. I’m tired of the excuse-making, the claims of ignorance, the unwillingness to take responsibility for mistakes made. It would be so refreshing to hear some of these players admit to what they’ve done, promise that they won’t do it again, and then ask for forgiveness. If some of these players were a little more honest with us, I’d be far more willing to consider amnesty, or some form of it. But these players want it both ways; they want to continue to live their lies and avoid punishment of any kind.
Anger aside, the report contained some level of surprise for me. Oh, most of the names I came to expect because of rumors and rumblings we’ve heard for years. Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, the entire BALCO crew, Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra, David Segui, no surprises there. But there were certainly some names I didn’t anticipate being mentioned: Brian Roberts, Eric Gagne, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Rondell White, Mark Carreon, David Justice, Chuck Knoblauch, Hal Morris, Mike Stanton, and Fernando Vina. (And then there were guys I’ve never even heard of, like Stephen Randolph and Jeff Williams. I guess they’re famous now.) I had no idea that any of those players would be implicated. At least two of these men are prominent broadcasters, Justice with the YES Network and Vina with ESPN. I know that Justice has already denied using steroids, but haven’t heard from Vina yet. For many viewers, it will be difficult to attach much credibility to what they have to say as analysts, especially when it has anything to do with a player’s off-the-field behavior.
As a fan and follower of the Yankees, I was disappointed to see that 15 former and current Yankees (most of them now retired) were mentioned in the report. Nine of them played for the 2000 Yankees, the team that capped off the franchise’s most recent dynasty. While about half of those players allegedly started using steroids after the 2000 season, that still leaves the other half as possible users in 2000. Does that mean that an asterisk should be placed next to the name of that World Championship team? No, absolutely not, just like there should be no asterisks placed next to any of the game’s individual records. History cannot be re-written in such a definitive way. Yet, it does taint what the Yankees did that summer and fall; it does place a qualifier on what the Yankees accomplished that season.
Then there’s the issue of the Hall of Fame. Clemens, who would have been a slam dunk first-year shoe-in, will now receive the Mark McGwire treatment. If Clemens makes it at all, and that’s highly questionable right now, he will have to wait quite awhile—perhaps until the Veterans Committee. Ditto for Barry Bonds and to a lesser extent, Gary Sheffield. Miguel Tejada, given his recent decline, had probably already lost his way toward Cooperstown; his chances have been reduced to near zero. Kevin Brown and Matt Williams, if they had any chance at all, have seen that opportunity fully evaporate.
As we continue to digest the many revelations in Mitchell’s careful and thorough report, let’s also make one other thought clear. No one escapes blame in this mess. Not the guilty players, who placed fans in an impossible situation of having to balance team loyalties against the displeasure of rooting for cheaters. Not the owners or the baseball establishment, who reacted too slowly to the growing steroid plague, turning a blind eye in the face of rising home runs totals and rising attendance figures. Not the members of the media, who weren’t willing to dig hard enough, or early enough in the story.
We’ve all suffered plenty. I just hope that most members of the baseball community—be they players, owners, media, or fans—are willing to accept the hard lessons that should be grasped from what has been a most shameful experience.