Monday, September 15, 2008

Moving Past Steroids?

Over the weekend, the Dean of ShysterBall commenters, Pete Toms, shot me a column by Jeff Blair. It was something of a 1998 retrospective, trying to make sense of whether it was McGwire/Sosa or Cal Ripken who was more responsible for the post-strike resurgence (Pete thinks that Blair left out the prevalence of Camden Yards-style retroparks as an important factor, and I think he's right). It's well-worn territory by now, but I think Blair handles it pretty well, with none of the hysterics usually associated with the subject of steroids and home run mania.

Pete raised a point in his email, however, that has me thinking, and the point is this:

The press and the fans are sick of the steroids story and have moved along. I think it is very interesting that at Selig's media Q&A in NYC during the All Star break, there were ZERO questions asked about steroids. During the same All Star break at a fan Q&A there was only one steroids question and, at that, the subject was the arcana of the asterisk.
Whether people should move on is a decent question, but not one I am totally equipped to answer at the moment because morals and ethics take a lot of words, so we'll leave it for another day.

But I think Pete is right that people have moved on. Bring up Bonds or McGwire or Clemens or someone specifically-implicated already, and you'll have a long conversation about PEDs. Talk about baseball in general, however, and PEDs don't come up much -- and certainly not as much as they did a couple of short years ago -- and that holds true whether it be in conversations in the press or at the corner bar.

This is interesting to me, because at the moment I'm in the process of writing a longer piece about the Mitchell Report and its impact one year later. One of the things that I've had in my head for a while was how big a P.R. blunder it probably was for Selig to have commissioned the thing in the first place, because by doing so it would merely postpone closure on the issue. Keep the hammer down on testing, wait it out, and soon the issue would disappear, at least from a P.R. perspective, I thought.

But for all of its real flaws, I'm wondering now if the Mitchell Report wasn't a stroke of genius. Because it's something of a bogus concept, closure is a funny thing to think about rationally. Rather than actual healing, perhaps closure merely requires grand gestures like maudlin ceremonies, silly reports, and public executions in order to be effective. Perhaps Selig even knew this at the time he commissioned the report.


Jason @ IIATMS said...

Isn't that giving an awful lot of credit to Bud... to think that all he needed was an elaborate "THUD" to close the door and that'd be it?

I mean, he took some real lumps along the way.

mooseinohio said...

Interesting how different leagues have dealt with problems such as steroids or drug use and how factors such as league/union partnerships (e.g., the NFL more workable relationship v. baseball dysfunctional adversarial relationship), media perspective (e.g. Shawne Merriman suspended for steroids but considered MVP candidate while Bonds, McGuire et al are considered cheats and unworthy of awards or the HoF), and reverence of history (e.g., Michael Jordan is not compared to Oscar Robertson the same way as Clemens and Randy Johnson are to Gibson and Koufax let alone to Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove) have made baseball appear to look the worse. Yeah I know MLB should have/could have done something sooner but all sports leagues have wrestled with the demons of allowing players to perform at the highest, most competitive level and therefore most entertaining, marketable and hopefully profitable - some have just danced a little better with the devil.

In my opinion the lack of questioning is more a byproduct of apathy or resignation by those who watch sports for a living or entertainment that PEDs are with us to stay. How many of us watched Dana Torres, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt or others in the Olympics without ‘I wonder if they’re using’ thought passing through our head. It saddens me to say that, for me, I tend to have a little doubt with all and while Lance Armstrong or Bolt or Garciaparra or until recently Clemens never tested positive and removed all speculation – doubt was and will always be there. However I do not have the mental time or energy to compartmentalize who the may have’s and not have’s are. So unless proof is actually there one way or another I tend to have a little suspicion with all and have reconciled myself to the fact that sports, with baseball being my favorite, are not the pure endeavor we all want them to be in our minds.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Good points, Moose.

Jason: It's not like Bud is some martyr in all of this, and there's no question that any PR game he was playing with the MR was both to help baseball and to help himself. By naming names like the report did, it certainly changed the conversation, didn't it? Instead of saying that Bud didn't have control, we immediately started talking about Roger Clemens, and then Roger Clemens' lawsuit, and when that got boring, well, hey, how about them Cubbies!

Michael M said...

I think Bud got lucky with this one. I think he had Mitchell do this joke of a report because he was too afraid to take more severe action, and didn't want to do it directly. I'm tired of this owner-friendly old man.

Pete Toms said...

One more factor contributing to the "post strike resurgence" that Blair neglected to mention was the Yankees dynasty.

I always thought the MR would work beautifully for MLB and I think it has. This is a quote from my dormant blog, posted in November last year and I haven't changed my mind one bit.

"Mitchell will present overwhelming evidence that the game was dirty. Fans know that, no surprise to any of us. Mitchell will provide a platform, that MLB controls, from which MLB can manage the message. Mitchell is a company man don't forget, Blue Ribbon panel member, Red Sox Director and long rumored commissioner ( too old now ). Initially MLB will express surprise at the extent of PED usage detailed by Mitchell, followed by constant apologies from MLB for their negligence and "betrayal of the fans", followed by solemn, ironclad guarantees that this era is over, that testing is working & will be strengthened, it's all under control. And the fans will eat it up big time, because they're ready to, because cheating ( at least chemically ) isn't fun anymore, because they'll enjoy the contrived public self-flagellation, because it's what they want to hear, because they never really cared in the first place ( not enough to stay away ) because Bonds has been punished and that is right and is simple and makes sense."

Going forward what remains unresolved is how serious MLB is about taking the juice out of the game. Bigger, faster, stronger sells. I burned out ( like the rest of us ) on the PED story, but isn't MLB controlling / administering the testing? You can have testing and policy up the ying yang a la the NFL but is the will there? It sure ain't in the NFL. Is it in MLB?