The Mitchell Report

                Grace, the very one who fashions every delight                           

                for mortal men, by lending her sheen

               to what is unbelievable, often makes it believed.

               but the days to come

               are the wisest witness.

               It is proper for a man

              to speak well of the gods —

              the blame will be less.

                                                                 -Pindar, Victory Odes

Is anyone actually surprised by the Mitchell Report?  They shouldn’t be.  It has merely been a confirmation of all that I have suspected for some time now.  409 pages of details on the drug use of baseball players.  Current players.  Inactive players. Perpetually injured players.  Players with Cy Youngs.  Players with MVP honors.  Relievers, catchers, pitchers, designated hitters. 

Performance enhancing drug use was (and continues to be) everywhere.  If cycling and track and field (possibly the most tested sports of all time) continue to cope with this reality, why not baseball, a sport whose union until this point has refused to do anything substantial to even the playing field or protect the health of its players?  If anything, I would be shocked that more players did not try steroids, and the numbers indicate that drug-abusing players merely redefined the playing field for all involved.

What steroids has done is contribute to the degradation of the sport.  Sure, we all marveled at the “Bash Brothers” when Jose Conseco and Mark McGwire pounded their way through pitching, and got caught up in the home run chase of McGwire and Bonds.  But the unreal accomplishments by these players encouraged others to play at high levels and extend careers.  They were threatened by young guns (possibly using drugs as well), and healing early or getting over that groin problem could be the difference between getting that next contract that would provide for the family.

Sure, salaries have skyrocketed, but the culture has changed as well. A-Rod has to be the highest dough earner, to put a stamp on his status as the best in the sport.  Gone are the days when players either had a lunch pail mentality (and pay) for their jobs; in are the days endorsements and celebrity.  Fifty years ago, baseball players such as Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays were embraced as symbols of black progress, and even DiMaggio embodied New York City as the pride of the Yankess.  What does A-Rod mean to fans?  A better fantasy team.  To baseball clubs?  Filled seats.  To marketers?  Name recognition. 

Pindar , the great Greek poet and chronicler of the original olympic games, speaks of “delights in the toil and the cost”, but he frames this in the context of providing greater glory for the city and family.  As aristocratic as that may seem these days, players play for themselves.  One CNN commentator asked a former major leaguer, “Isn’t that the point of sports?  To display that god-given natural talent and hard work?” 

Do not yearn, O my soul, for immortal life!

Use to the utmost the skill that is yours.

Yes, that was the point of sports.  But much like wrestling no longer cares to test for steroids and turns a blind eye (or even encourages this behavior), sports has become an entertainment.  ESPN, for all the good they have done in bringing us the stories of the atheletes, and magnifying their achievements, have also allowed those few stars to dominate the headlines.  Entertainers who talk get airplay.  Teams are celebrated, but ultimately he that gets the spotlight is he who creates controversy or talking points.  Just look at the pathetic coverage of one Steeler’s “half guarantee” that they would beat the Patriots this last week.

But praise falls in with surfeit

and is muted, not in justice

but because of boisterous men, whose noise

would obscure beauty, for 

 sands cannot be counted,

and how many joys

this man has brought his fellows, who can say?

The media needs to shoulder some of the blame.  They could have applied more pressure than they had, but instead it was more exciting and profitable to cover home run chases. In Greece, natural talent, training, hard work, and divine help was the recipe for success…today the last element has been replaced, and will contine to be replaced, by chemicals that will do nothing for the sport or its fans, but will merely serve its user’s selfish attempts to be a “true competitor.” 

In many ways, we brought this about ourselves, refused to examine its implications, and while the Mitchell Report may not bring about change, we can no longer deny its presence or its influence.

What has been done

with justice or without

not even time the father of all                            

can undo. But with good luck

oblivion may come,for malignant pain   

perishes in noble joy, confounded

whenever a fate from the gods raises happiness on high.

 

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