Like millions of other baseball fans around the world, I had mixed emotions when the Mitchell Report went public last week. On one hand, I was glad that Major League Baseball finally and formally admitted that steroids, human growth hormone, and performance enhancing drugs have plagued the sports industry. However, I was disappointed to see that some of my favorite athletes are cheaters. Although I suspected (as did many fans) that it was somehow unnatural for big leaguers like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa to become bigger and physically stronger at the end of their careers, it would be un-American of me to blame them without sufficient proof. Now, with the release of the Mitchell Report, the problem has finally come to light, allowing Commissioner Bud Selig’s, players, owners, and agents to take real action towards cleaning up the mess.
Baseball, the National Pastime, has entertained Americans since the 1800’s, and, for perhaps just as long, been the center of controversy. From the Black Sox scandal in 1919, in which eight players were accused of throwing the World Series, to the Pete Rose betting scandal, to the Pittsburg Drug Trials in 1985, to the steroid era, Baseball and controversy have gone together for over 100 years. The debate shouldn’t be whether bad things happen in the game – because we know they have and will continue to happen – the debate should be how we handle the problem.
Major League Baseball and the players Association botched the steroid era from the beginning. Years ago, when the first inkling of performance enhancing drugs hit the world of sports, the owners and players could have and should have worked out a blameless truce that would serve all interested parties and eliminated that form of cheating going forward.
A clean game, on the surface, may not seem to serve team owners who clearly benefit at the ticket office from higher scoring games with lots of homeruns. However, as we’ve learned from the Mitchell Report, there were numerous pitchers (including potential Hall of Famer Roger Clemens) who were also using these illegal enhancers. So, although teams during the steroid era were producing more runs per game than ever, the higher run production cannot be attributed to stronger hitters alone. Factors like the tighter wound ball, smaller ballparks, the expansion of the league, uniformed strike zones, and state of the art weight training all contributed to the rise in runs per game. Thus, though many owners, said for example Peter McGowan of the San Francisco Giants, reaped the rewards of their juiced hitters scoring more runs, the fact remains that the increased attendance during the steroid era could have occurred without the players breaking the law.