Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Forward (V)

Forgive my tone, but dammit, baseball! You can’t go away, can you?
I discussed with SPJ the other day; baseball is the lone sport where in its offseason, you constantly hear from and see everyone else but the athletes themselves. Whether is the hot stove moments after the final out of a team’s season, the winter meetings (one year, there was a sponsorship and logo for meetings, people!) or Valentine’s Day, baseball doesn’t give you the chance to miss it. Instead, media and league executives are always discussing a pressing issue or speculating trades or foaming at the mouth for another Red Sox/Yankees series (sorry). Outside of the NFL playoffs, the game’s politics overshadow all other non-football sports events. This isn’t always a good thing, but since performance-enhancers seem to come up more in conversation than I’d like, I might as well get this out of the way.

Baseball: Now what? Barry Bonds has been indicted; the Mitchell Report revealed a few names and two fatal drunk-driving accidents have hit the heart of the sport. Roger Clemens is going on a campaign to defend himself against a former trainer who provided his ex-client’s name to the said report. Scott Boras eclipsed the World Series and the Yankees were a public relations nightmare. The Red Sox are champions again while the Pirates are the minor-league organization of the year… I mean… nevermind. For a sport that seems to captivate the attention of a nation, it sure knows how to do it for the wrong reasons.

George Mitchell’s investigation gave the sport and fans the proverbial lump of coal for Christmas. Not that there were any punishments doled out or any legal precedents set against the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), but there was the tossing of players’ names like horseshoes. Though Mitchell and his committee made recommendations and Congress has decided to follow up with a hearing next week, baseball itself will have to act in order to move forward as it has desired to do for some time.

Now what?

Are more revelations going to come to light about PED use? Absolutely. Some of the named players have already come clean for reasons we may not know. Maybe they were afraid of the scrutiny that will follow them if they did not say “yes, I did”. Maybe they have an ace up their sleeves for more damaging evidence against players who could have done them wrong in the past. Maybe some folks may have a big ax to grind. Or just maybe, as the case was for one of the named former players, being named lifted a burden off of his shoulders.

Are league executives and owners going to add weight to these accusations? The players will be scapegoats and their images will be tarnished, whether guilty or innocent. However, the most responsible parties in this fiasco have been and continue to be the folks in suits and not uniforms. Commissioner Bud Selig touts increase in attendance gates every season in the post-strike era and that he should. There have been so many long-overdue additions that have made baseball intriguing to the masses (the wild card, interleague, international talents). Yet, the majority of teams play in games that mean little because they have no prospects of the playoffs. Owners need to make some sort of money and executives need to save their jobs because of a hot bat or two late in the season. Some of these folks had turned a blind eye because for a time at least, they were putting a few butts in the seats and giving some sort of hope in the future (as either a centerpiece or trading piece). This may cast some of the most respected figures in the game into the same light as those who have less-than-sterling backgrounds, but if this is done to the players, it should be done to those who decide their future in the game.

The true next step in this saga will be for more executives to come forward without a publicist-issued statement. The only executive of record to have admitted any sort of knowledge was San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers, who suspected that former NL MVP Ken Caminiti had been using steroids. Less than three years ago, Towers said that because of the financial windfall for the franchise - which included a World Series appearance in 1998 and the city’s approval of building PETCO Park – he kept quiet, knowing that the well would run dry. This admission only came after Caminiti died of a drug overdose-induced heart attack in The Bronx.

There’s got to be more than this.

Before revealing the report, Mitchell opened his press conference by discussing the potential impact of PED use on the young. The fears have been thrusted in front of the public for years now, but it took the death of a former player and the fall of records for baseball to address this issue. All the grandstanding Congressional hearings and hind-saving has yet to make the necessary headway. Either way, there’s unfortunately no end in sight. For baseball’s sake, you hope the old adage doesn’t come alive; it takes something to happen for people to learn.

Say What?!?!: Equal opportuntity stupidity. Only in America.

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