Is That a Look of Surprise?

When Mr. Mitchell hung all (?) of baseball's dirty laundry out on the line for everyone to see, much of the media went wild with indignation. The sound of rending typewriter ribbons, or computer keyboards, could be heard from Boston to Miami and from New York to Los Angeles. Could everyone been surprised?

A couple of things: The commissioner was, if not exonerated, at least pretty much ignored in the report. Of course, that's who hired Mitchell in the first place. It's much like a University hiring the economics professor to examine the teaching methods and boasting that they received a superior rating.

Second, the owners were touched oh, so lightly by the brush, noting that they were much more frightened by the economics of the ill-timed strike to worry about performance enhancers. As Al Capp used to say of Senator Bullmoose in his Lil' Abner comics, "What's good for Bullmoose is good for the nation." One U.S. president said it another way: "The business of America is business." Insert baseball instead of business and you can see my point.

Third, performance enhancers are not exclusive to baseball. This is not an excuse, its a fact. That doesn't absolve the people who did it and the people who let them do it for a moment.

And then there is an authenticity factor. I don't often agree with Scott Boras, who represents a number of high-profile players. He says he's wary because he believes "the concerns of due process and the standards that apply to it are relatively unknown. Certainly, any results that occur from the report have to be looked at in the light that this is not a collectively bargained effort."

"A lot of the basis for this is hearsay information," Boras went on, according to The Times. "It's not based on any kind of clinical testing, so it is widely a product of hearsay testimony. Without clinical testing or hard evidence, any report like this has to be reviewed with great scrutiny."

Players have been getting help for many seasons. At one time it was "greenies", or "uppers" to you folks from the 1960s. They were little pills named for their color, who boosted you when the long, grueling baseball season started to wear you down. Or overrode an ill-timed hangover. These little gems were dispensed by the club trainers to anyone who needed them. Did the commissioner know? Did the club officials know? They would have certainly denied it if asked, claiming no knowledge of the distribution (wink, wink).

The cocaine problem entered the American economy and America's Game about the same time. When rare abusers were caught, they were punished ... almost. Steve Howe finally hit the three and out (actually seven and out) and was suspended, but others were quietly checked into the local center for substance abuse, then welcomed back.

As technology "improved", steroids became the villain. However, like coke, there were tests that could detect the players' use. Then the variety blossomed to the point that it was tough for anyone to catch up with the latest wonder drug.

As they grew, so did the tell-tail traces that could be found by testing. But if warned in time, and some of them were according to the Mitchell Report, one could avoid the sheriff for another multi-million dollar contract or two.

Human growth hormones are the current booster du jour and these little rascals are undetectable. And by this time, as the report points out, it seems like 'everyone' is using them, making it easier to over-ride your conscience. The newest drug is probably in the test tubes as we speak.

Most of the players named were very talented. They were looking for an edge and their eyes could see what was happening -- home runs flew out of the park at a rate that denigrated the old standards. Players continued to maintain a high talent level beyond the average retirement age and some grew to the size of NFL tackles.

You've heard the story of the old Indian telling his grandson that each of us have a pair of wolves inside us. One is mean and ugly and has no trouble cheating, lying or stealing. The other wolf is friendly, compassionate and considerate.

When the grandson asked which wolf will take control of you, the Indian said, "The one you feed."

So just pause for a moment and answer this question truthfully. If you were told by a genie you just liberated from a bottle found on a beach that if you would only inject or rub this liquid or cream on your body, you would become so good at your job you could begin to make $6 or $8 or $10 or even $25 million a year.

Would you take a chance on damaging your health and cutting your life-expectancy short if you knew you would provide riches beyond belief for your family and your families-famly for decades to come?

No matter that you know the correct answer to the question, just for a moment, didn't a little doubt creep into your mind? And if you were beset by illness in the family beyond your ability to pay for help, wouldn't it would be easy so lapse into the wrong camp -- much like a marginal player who just needed a little more pop in the bat or a few more mph in his arm to reach The Show and the big payoff?

The vast majority of the players in Major and Minor League Baseball not only answered correctly but stuck with their convictions. These are the players -- and the game itself -- I have compassion for. They will all be branded with the same iron, and, like being accused of being a child molester, no matter what you say or what you do, the tag will stick with you forever.

The game of baseball will survive. It's much bigger than those who turned a blind eye to the problems or the fools that tried to cheat it. It will always be made for sunny afternoons and long, balmy nights with periods of suspense building up until a strikeout with runners on base or a clutch hit turns the tide.

Hopefully, some good will come out of the exposé. It will certainly turn a number of people off. But like the damaging strikes that mar the history of the game, people will come back. Like a cheating lover that asks to return, love will override anger and our selective memory will do us in good stead.

The betting scandal in college basketball years ago damaged the sport greatly and it has taken years to get back to where we are now. But, alas, we have become numb to abuse of power. From the top levels of government to the shady character who pops out of an alleyway wanting to sell you a Rolex for $10, the entire world has become caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware.

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