Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Say It Ain’t So

Shoelessjoejackson There is a legendary (and possibly apocryphal) story that is forever a part of baseball lore. Heartbroken fans were told that their heroes, the 1919 Chicago White Sox were crooked.  They allegedly had thrown the World Series and made a huge profit from it.  When the trial of seven indicted players began in June of 1921, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson testified about his role in the “Black Sox” scandal.  As he was leaving the courtroom, Jackson encountered a group of small boys, baseball fans who were crushed by what they had been told.  According to the New York Times, one of the boys looked at Jackson with tears in his eyes and said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.”  Jackson is said to have replied, “Yes, boys, I’m afraid it is.”

The Black Sox scandal still stands as the lowest point in baseball history, but the idiotic strike that canceled the 1994 season came close to inflicting equal damage to the game. One of the things that brought Major League Baseball back from the precipice was the 1998 home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  Then came the dual revelations that Sosa was using a illegal corked bat and he and McGwire both were taking anabolic steroids.

The use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (principally Human Growth Hormone) has been the worst-kept secret in sports for the last ten years.  Baseball players have been among the most notable offenders.  No one on the planet who has ever seen Barry Bond’s rookie card and compared the guy in that picture to the brick house who allegedly broke Ruth and Aaron’s records this past season ever doubted he was taking steroids. No one seriously believed any of the hundreds of denials he issued about it.  Ditto for McGuire, Sosa and Palmero.  All of them vehemently denied using steroids, and all of them subsequently admitted they had lied about it.

George_mitchell At the end of the day, today’s release of the Mitchell Report didn’t yield any real surprises.  Roger Clemens was probably hammered the hardest.  The seven-time Cy Young winner was singled out 82 times by name in the report. Amazingly, Clemens is still spouting the Baseball player’s steroid denial mantra (the same one spouted earlier by Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and Palmero among many, many other).  Through his attorney, Clemens today denied any steroid use and expressed outrage and indignation that he was mentioned in the report at all (much less 82 times on eight pages).

In some ways, this is worse than the Black Sox scandal of 1919.  Shoeless Joe and his six other co-defendants were eventually acquitted, but the stain on them and the game remained.  In this case, countless numbers of high school athletes are believed to be abusing steroids because “the pros do it.”  More than a few have lost their lives because of it.  No one died because the 1919 World Series was possibly fixed.  Kids have died and countless athletes have ruined their health because of the abuse of anabolic steroids.

The Mitchell Report blames not only the players and the “trainers” that supplied them, but also said that Commissioner Bud Selig was culpable because he did not act soon enough or firmly enough.  Mitchell also decried the atmosphere that existed in Baseball that made athletes feel they had to use performance enhancers or lose their jobs (and tens of millions of dollars) to someone who was.

Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades — commissioners, club officials, the player’s association and players — shares to some extent the responsibility for the Steroids Era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on.

Selig held his own news conference a couple hours after Mitchell’s, saying “If there were problems, I wanted them revealed. If there were individuals who engaged in wrongdoing, I wanted those facts to come to light. If there were recommendations that would improve our drug testing program, I wanted to hear them.”

“His report is a call to action. And I will act,” the Commissioner said.

One of those mentioned in the report was Paul Byrd. This also was not a surprise, since word came out after his great performance in the 2007 World Series that he had used HGH.  While HGH was not a banned substance at the time he used it, he knew fundamentally it wasn’t right. He answered questions honestly and forthrightly in October.  Paul is a great guy and a sincere follower of Christ.  I coached Upward Basketball with him in Alpharetta, and my wife taught his kids music at school.  I knew him when he was playing for Kansas City.  We were all thrilled when he came back to the Braves in 2004.  I’m sorry he got caught up in this.  He’s no Barry Bonds.  He has his head on straight morally, spiritually and financially.  Being a big league star never went to his head.

The early consensus just hours after the report was released was that the records in question will stand (albeit possibly with asterisks beside them) but that the scandal may cost the implicated superstars a trip to Cooperstown.  They may very well join the ranks of those like Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose who should be there but won’t be because of what they did off the field.

But the most damage could be to baseball itself. A myriad of current and former stars are now implicated in this scandal and all of their accomplishments on the field must be considered ill-gotten gains at best and invalid at worst.  Bonds, the current single season and all-time home run record holder is under a cloud of suspicion, not to mention a federal indictment.

Will the game ever be the same again?

Read the CNN article on the Mitchell Report here

Download the Mitchell Report in PDF format here.

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