While the baseball world waits for the Mitchell report, news in the last couple of days keeps the the steroid and HGH issue front and center. Jay Gibbons and Jose Guillen received the equivalent of a wrist slap while Barry Bonds had his first day in court and pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
I started this site years ago and write from the standpoint of a fan of the game. I also know that we've been here before. The cocaine years of the 1970s tripped up many players and particularly hit the Pittsburgh Pirates hard. As a fan, many of the professional writers want me to be morally outraged that players would "tarnish" the game in such a way. As much as I've tried to work up myself into a lather, I have to admit in the end that I just don't care.
If anything, the whole business saddens me. Anyone who truly loves the game has to be saddened that records and players have come under suspicion. We can't watch a strong performance or see any record broken without thinking about if the moment will be suspect down the line or will we find out if the player had an "artificial advantage."
I have to admit that I just want to enjoy the game. I want to see the highlights and read the box scores. I want to see which rookie will surprise everyone and what player will have a career year. I want to see comeback stories and long shot career minor leaguers finally getting to play in the bigs. The reality is that I don't want to have my cozy little obsession clouded up with bad news and controversy.
And truth be told, I am not overly impressed with the "problem." I certainly understand steroids are dangerous to those that ingest or are shot up with them. The murder/suicide perpetuated by that pro wrestler a while back showed us all the destructive power of steroids. The side effects do not seem worth the short term gains. But let's say that as many as 50% of MLB players were using during the height of the period. And let's add that half of those would be pitchers. That gives any batter a one in four chance of facing such a pitcher and any pitcher facing such a batter. Did it really make that much of a difference?
Sure, we've all been shown how runs and homers increased in the last twenty years. We've also seen more players reach 500 homers in the last 20 years that for decades before this combined. Can we really say with any certainty that drugs were the only factor? How about the baseball, lower pitching mounds and the general decrease in pitching talent over the years or the greater number of teams causing the same amount of talent to be spread more thinly across the leagues? There is no way to quantify the use of drugs as the only culprit in the statistical anomaly.
Without an effective measure and without all other things being equal, records should stand and all talk of asterisks banished from the grandstands. There were some suspicious developments over the years:
- Brady Anderson's fifty homer season.
- The sudden emergence of Luis Gonzalez at Arizona.
- The long careers and sudden fitness of pitchers like Clemens, Schilling and Johnson.
I'm not making any judgment calls on those items above, but can anyone ever know for sure anymore? That's what this mess has done to the average fan. For me, it still comes down to a pitcher having to throw the ball on a certain plane, sixty feet, six inches away and a batter still has to decide in seconds whether to swing and then once committed, hit the darn round thing on a sold part of a round bat barrel. Drugs aren't going to aid you in those things.
While no one would disagree that steroids are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) was widely prescribed by physicians to aid in the healing process. Not outlawed in MLB until 2005, players would go down with a serious injury and take HGH to help speed the healing process. To me, that is very similar than shots many athletes get to relief stress on joints when they deteriorate and ache.
The commissioner has set a precedent with fifteen-day suspensions on Guillen and Gibbons. That sounds more reasonable than fifty days. But is he punishing those players for using a substance that was legal when they were taking it? Is that the correct thing to do?
The only logical stance, both now and after the Mitchell Report is released is to grant unconditional amnesty for anything prior to 2006 when this issue got to be as big a deal as it is now. Develop tests and policies that ban everything (including those shots!) from here on in and deal harshly anyone caught going forward. Anything more than this plan reeks of unfairness.
And if you are going to go through with punishing players who get caught, then shouldn't the teams and their trainers and physicians be under scrutiny as well?
The Fan just wants it all to go away. Perhaps there will be so many players on Mitchell's list, we will collectively yawn and put the subject away for a while. I totally understand that will depend on the frenzy created post-report by the writers and those politicians looking for a good cause to flex muscles. Let's hope that both of those groups will recognize that we don't care anymore and just want it to all end.