Friday, December 14, 2007

The Gorilla In The Room

OK, get ready for the rant...

Up until now, I have avoided writing much about steroids in this blog outside of cursory mentions here and there. There are a lot of reasons for that.

First, I try to keep this blog very Oriole focused and so I would only think to address the issue if a current or former Baltimore player happened to be implicated or caught. To my chagrin, it's happened far more than I anticipated!

Secondly, I really don't care much about the subject. I know that players were using PEDs from roughly 1989-present and that there was no testing in place until 2004. I can live with that. I don't care who did it or who didn't because I don't believe we will ever know for sure. I believe it was so widespread that you can just slap that "Steroids Era" on the whole timeframe and be done with it.

You don't compare players against static records anyway. OK, a lot of people do but that's just silly. Was Pete Rose really a better hitter than Tony Gwynn because he has more hits? Maybe. The important thing is to look at a players career critically and not just the total stat. All the players who played in this time need to be compared to their peers whether you are looking at HOF credentials or just debating who was better than who. Thankfully, the thinking fan has those tools at his disposal.

What does this lead to? The cheapening of homerun totals for sure. Remember when 400 put you on the steps of Cooperstown and 500 was a slam dunk for induction? Kiss that goodbye. 400 doesn't even get you a sniff by itself. We will soon see guys with 500 on the outside looking in. All this is fine with me and I can live with it.

So I don't take it personally anymore when an Oriole or some other player I liked to root for gets caught or is implicated in a PED probe. The last time I felt that way was when Rafael Palmiero tested positive for steroids back in 2005. I wasn't particularly surprised that Jose Canseco's allegations about Palmiero turned out to be founded on some sort of fact. But when Raffy made that vehement denial in front of Congress and then got busted? Ouch. That told me that even the good guys (and Palmiero certainly was one of the good guys) were using and would lie, lie, lie to cover it up. Now everybody was under suspicion.

So why do I care about this Mitchell Report? Up to this point we have barely scratched the surface of this issue. The BALCO investigation brought out some names and there have been leaks here and there from the Jason Grimsley debacle and the HGH bust that netted Jay Gibbons, Gary Matthews Jr. and others. These are very isolated situations and very small, closed loops. But the names were in the press and many of these players were singled out and vilified.

Now the Mitchell Report has come along and revealed at least a couple more links in the chain. Former big league trainer Brian McNamee and former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Lots of names mentioned, some with more evidence against them than others, but it shows that the problem was a bit more pervasive than anyone really wanted to admit before.

Unfortunately, this report is still just scratching the surface. Do we really believe that there were no other trainers supplying PEDs during this time? There was an open market from MLB all the way down to the lowest levels of the minors and there was nothing stopping players from using. What about the notable missing names, the players who have been suspect in the past but have never been caught? Sammy Sosa, Brett Boone and others have been suspect in the court of public opinion for years. Where did Sammy get his stuff? Or Boone? Or Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson or scores of others who seemed to come out of nowhere to jack 35+ homers a season? Those who supplied the obvious "offenders" also supplied players who are not so obvious too. We've seen that in this report.

There is much more to be learned but we won't learn it anytime soon. Mitchell did not have subpoena power and could not compel anyone to cooperate if they didn't want to. Indeed, no active MLB player did. (more on that point later) The only hope that this report will really bring things to light in the near future is that Congress gets upset by the contents of the report and launches another investigation with real teeth behind it. It would be awesome. Subpoena power, taking statements under oath...that's where the real information will be spilled. Players (and others) who actually wanted to talk would now have an excuse to do so ("I was under oath buddy. I had no choice but to give up your name.") or be less compelled to cover it up since they would have much more to lose. Alas, this will probably not happen. The press seems happy to vilify Roger Clemens the same way they have vilified Bonds in recent years and not look much at the big picture.

On to the players, the commentary on the report by former players who are now baseball analysts was something I hadn't considered before but was one of the most telling parts of the day. As the report was being released, I was alternately amused and sickened listening to these former players continue to stonewall and hide their heads in the sand. On, I had the displeasure of listening to Harold Reynolds, Eduardo Perez and Brian Mcrae all continue to either deny or diminish the severity of the problem during the 90's. Now I'll give Harold Reynolds a bit of a pass on this since he retired after the strike shortened 1994 season and most of his clubhouse experiences were in the 1980's. But Perez and Mcrae? Perez played from 1993-2006 and McRae played from 1990-1999. They were in clubhouses 162 games a year during the height of "The Steroids Era" but seemingly never heard or saw anything. When asked, they would reply with something like, "I had tunnel vision in the locker room. I just went about my business, played ball and went home." Later in the interview they would hilariously imply that the owners and management probably knew more about it than they let on.

One of the more extreme examples so far has been John Kruk who opined on ESPN last night that he didn't see what the big deal about this report was because "There's only three big names in this report!". Thankfully, Fire Joe Morgan printed a few more of his quotes:

You know -- most of this is all hearsay. You heard Roger Cossack say that this stuff wouldn't stand up in a court. The thing I keep hearing from Mitchell and from Bud Selig is this: "Now we move forward. Now we move forward." If you want to move forward, why do you bring up names from the past who have nothing to do with the game of baseball right now? Mo Vaughn, Lenny Dykstra, David Justice -- guys who aren't involved in the game anymore. Why bring up their names? If you want to clean the game up, clean the game up. Those guys aren't dirtying the game anymore. They're out of it. So leave 'em out of it and move forward and get the guys who are. But again -- why do you gotta name the names? What is the purpose of naming the names of these people? Is it to satisfy the public? Is it to satisfy themselves? Why drag 'em all through the mud? Let them go. You got 'em, you call 'em in separately, privately, and you say, "Here's what we got on you, now you talk." If they don't want to talk, then you can do something as far as suspension. But you -- you don't have to get out in the public with this.

And this gem:

But you can't prove that they took anything! Just because you have 'em doesn't mean you took 'em. Now, common sense tells you if you're purchasing them you're probably going to use 'em also, but -- if there's no drug test, no failed drug test, how can you suspend anyone by hearsay? I mean, that's like arresting someone at 12 o'clock in the afternoon, saying, "About a week ago, you had a couple drinks and you were driving, so we're going to arrest you now." You can't do it unless you prove it.


There will be more of this over the next couple of weeks as the players' fraternity falls all over themselves to protect one another.

There was also Bud Selig's sanctimonious speech about taking action or some nonsense. I'm not sure how you can take action against players now for things they've done before these things were punishable by the league. Wrong way to go here.

There is no need for punishment, there should be no ramifications for Hall of Fame voting. Nothing. It's punishment enough for a player to be named. Simply bringing the stories into the light of day does far more for the game than any punishment ever could.

Some people out here in the blogosphere are making excuses for Brian Roberts (in my opinion) simply because he is a popular player and the evidence in the Mitchell Report is so flimsy against him. Admittedly, I would give Roberts a pass if he came out and strongly denied the claim.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Roberts has been implicated. His name also turned up on the Jason Grimsley affidavit (along with Miguel Tejada and Jay Gibbons...two players who had harder evidence turn up against them later).

And you can't ignore his spike in performance in 2005 given the other allegations. Here's a guy who never slugged .400 above rookie ball who suddenly slugs over .500 over the course of a full season in the majors and then continues to slug .400+ the last two years.

What does this whole long rant mean? I'm just frustrated. Not because I'm fretting about the sanctity of the record books, not because I'm concerned about competitive balance or because I fear the game has been besmirched. I already imagine the worst and it doesn't bother me. What does bother me is all the players, whether they used PEDs or not, will lie, concoct flimsy excuses and pretend none of this ever happened just to cover their asses or the assess of their buddies and peers.

I will continue to highlight that hypocrisy but hopefully I will have to discuss this no further for the foreseeable future.

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