Friday, December 14, 2007

Story of the Week -- Dec 10-14

Digesting the Mitchell Report

In late June 1994, I was in my parents' bedroom, busily writing my name on every article of clothing I owned in preparation for camp. I had Sportscenter on in the background (this is back when Sportscenter was good and watching it was a daily ritual). I was about to find out that my favorite baseball player tested positive for Cocaine use. Dwight Gooden did drugs, and he was suspended for 60 games. I was 11 years old, and the news made me cry.

The next day I went to camp and essentially forgot about Dwight Gooden. My dad didn't mention Doc in his almost daily recounts of Met games in letters. With or without Gooden, the Mets were a pretty mediocre team that year, and the year before they had lost 103 games. Two days after I got home from camp, on August 11, 1994, my dad took me to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to watch the Mets play the Phillies. The Mets lost that one, 2-1 in 15 innings. The game ended around 11:30. Half an hour later, The Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike.

In baseball's darkest hour, I wanted nothing more than to see my mediocre Mets take the field as soon as possible with the same flawed, crappy team that featured such overpaid duds as Bobby Bonilla and Bret Saberhagen. Even if they were without my favorite player, even if they used replacement players, as a 12 year old kid, I wanted to be able to go to Shea Stadium, and I didn't want to go another year without a World Series.

So I was there on April 28, 1995, cheering my team to a win over the Cardinals. In the first inning, 3 protesters ran onto the field and threw fake money, revealing shirts that said "GREED." But they were in the ballpark. 8 or 9 other people ran onto the field, too. One guy literally tried to steal third base. It was a great day.

The point? In less than a year, I saw my favorite player disappear from the game because he did drugs, then saw half a season and the postseason disappear because of money. And all I wanted was for everyone to just get back on the field and play.

Cut to this week, when 60-80 "favorite players" are implicated by former Sen. George Mitchell for using, buying, or, in some cases, sort of being around and hearing about, performance enhancing substances. And if you're a real baseball fan, you can't be surprised by any of the names on the list (ok, maybe Wally Joyner, but if you actually read the report you'll see that Wally didn't like the steroids and stopped using them almost immediately.) I imagine I'll be digesting the news in this report and the news that comes in its wake for quite a while, or at least until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

First of all, I'm not surprised by anything in the report, and no dedicated baseball fan should be shocked either. Think about it. Roger Clemens is 100 years old and still throws 95 mph. He's been old since 1997, which according to the Mitchell Report, is right around the time he started using steroids. 10 years later he's still going, at times looking less hittable than he did 12-15 years ago? You weren't suspicious?

Yes, steroids bad for you and a lot of people cheated. Let's examine the career of Todd Hundley. He was a decent hitting, good catcher. He was a leader on a hapless Met team and, once Bonilla busted and the Isringhausen/Pulsipher/Wilson dream fizzled out, the face of the team. He was good for 16-18 homers a year. In 1996, right when Mitchell alleges he started using, he hits 41 homers, breaking the Met record and the single-season record for catchers. And he drives in 112 runs. In '97, he hits 30 HR. Then in '98 he gets hurt, the Mets trade for Mike Piazza, they try to put Hundley in the outfield (bad idea) and he's never really the same.

Compare to Clemens, who extends his career with steroids and who knows what else (allegedly) but also does it with a well-documented ridiculous work ethic and workout routine. And also, by comparison, has much more ability. I say the same about Bonds (who I hate, because he's a dick) The guy used steroids, but he was still an incredible player before that. They cheated, but they still belong in the hall of fame.

Also, if Clemens wasn't using, and he's pitching to Bonds who was and getting him out, that's impressive. If they were both using - still impressive. If Hundley's using and Clemens is clean, then Rocket is working extra hard to get out the juiced up batters. And vice versa. And whether Josiais Manzanillo is using or not, he still sucks and you still don't know who he is.

I'm tired of hearing a couple of arguments, including the "fallen heroes" argument. Roger Clemens is your idol? Really? The player who's been a mercenary for 4 years, holding up his "hometown" team for millions of dollars? The same guy who threw a sawed off bat at Mike Piazza? Barry Bonds certainly hasn't been a role model. Before you even get close to talking about his steroid use you have to get past the fact that he's a narcissistic asshole. John Rocker? (any surprise he showed up in the Mitchell Report?) If you look up to John Rocker, you need psychological help. And if your 10-year-old kid idolizes John Rocker, you both need help.

I'm also tired of the holier-than-thou baseball writers who insist they won't vote anyone alleged to use steroids into the Hall of Fame. You same people exalted Mark McGwire for bringing back the game post-strike (I'm getting tired of this counter argument, too, but I agree with it) knowing full well his head and arms were just unnaturally large. You even uncovered the andro in his locker and let it go once #62 barely cleared the left field wall at Busch Stadium. So shut up with the outrage, be happy that Baseball is finally doing something about this, and put McGwire into the Hall of Fame, and put Bonds and Clemens in in five years, too.

I'm also tired of people caring what President Bush thinks because he used to own the Texas Rangers know what? I'm just tired of President Bush. But that's for another day.

The steroids problem runs so deep that it's impossible to unravel. And I'm in the camp with the people who want to move on. Major League Baseball is right. Attendance is through the roof, and it's not because players are hitting more home runs. It's because the experience of going to a baseball game is as good as it's ever been. The Mitchell Report doesn't leave me jaded. I've been jaded at least since my favorite player got suspended for using cocaine (he's still in prison, in case you've forgotten)

Ballplayers are human beings, they're not saints. And I can't wait until they get back on the damn field already. 8 weeks to pitchers and catchers?

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