Did any of you get that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach when you found out the report we have all been waiting for was to be released on the 13th? I couldn't understand why they didn't wait for the next Friday the 13th.
The only thing out of place was the time. It was scheduled for two in the afternoon although it could have easily been 1:13 or in military terms, 13:13. This was going to be an eerie day in sports annals.
You could hear the band tuning up the theme from the movie of the same name when former Senator George Mitchell uttered the first words of a 400-page report although it did not reach a crescendo until your friend and mine, Bud Selig, stood up and began one of the most sickening press conference ever witnessed by people with more than two brain cells to rub together.
When the mike went live I was expecting one of those governmental gatherings where Bob DuPuy, John McHale and other Major League executives were asking the questions while the ever sanctimonious Selig would put such a spin on things that President Bush and his cohorts would look downright honest.
This was baseball's version of waterboarding with players and fans being the victims.
You would think baseball would have learned from their past but once again they ignored it and, gasp, they repeated it. Gloom and doom my friends.
The sport thought the words "Reserve Clause" meant legalized slavery. Curt Flood showed them the error of their ways and in one felled swoop, salaries went from Abner Doubleday's era into the 20th Century.
If you have ever driven the I-95 corridor in the Carolinas there is a string of gas stations called "El Cheapo." That was baseball pre-Flood. Post-Flood was nothing short of a debacle as all the money the Steinbrenners and Autreys had tucked away sprung from their wallets like a sailor on shore leave with a fist full of million-dollar bills.
In an odd way, 1975 is directly tied to today's steroid/performance enhancing outing by Mitchell and Selig.
Don't blame Mitchell because he was given a job and a virtual unlimited expense account to gather information of people who wanted nothing to do with his investigation. If you expected otherwise it is very possible that you are down to a single cell brain yourself and should read no further for fear of learning something.
Selig, on the other hand, isn't completely culpable because the buffoons that occupied the King's Throne on Park Avenue before him have to share in the blame. It was on all their watches that salaries escalated to Monopoly proportions and when they tried to slow down the freight train they, along with team owners, were nabbed for collusion.
Cost them a mighty sum to boot.
The incessant need for winning saw wallets open so fast that there were moth scares in major league cities.
"I'll give you $3 million for three years." Phone rings and the voice says, "Forget that guy, I'll give you $3.5 over four." Team one counters with $3.75 over five.
Back then it was a lot of money but think of the position the players were put in. For years they had to work winter jobs and look for the tiniest monetary morsel they could find to stay solvent in order to play a kid's game. A World Series share was a windfall like they had never seen before.
In the blink of an eye those same players hit the lottery. Over time even the scrubs who hang on for dear life on the major league rosters were becoming millionaires.
The arrogance of commissioners, league presidents and owners were all party to what happened this day. They spoiled players by overpaying after decades of repression. Now they all are on the soap box yelling "Kill the bastards for ruining my game."
Who exactly owns this game?
It was not the fan who held every player hostage and paid them like they work in China making toys for kids in the U.S. in regular or unleaded.
It was not the fan that didn't have the presence of mind to head off what was inevitable, a war amongst greedy owners by being proactive with the unions in collective bargaining issues. It was always the owners vs. players.
When Joe Average wanted to become a star or a star wanted Hall of Fame credentials, they would resort to what baseball has been doing since the beginning of time – cheating. It wasn't about hiding someone in the scoreboard to steal signs. It also wasn't about throwing illegal pitches with scuffed stitches or a little saliva. It was better living through chemistry.
If anything, Lenny Dykstra should have been the opening salvo as to what was coming. The scrawny ex-Met hit a few homers in the postseason, saw all that money coming down the pike and on one March day strolled into Phillies spring training in Clearwater looking like the Incredible Bulk.
What to do? What to do?
Obviously, the brains behind the operations probably said, "Let's do nothing. Maybe he can hit 20 this year and we win 90."
What we have here is a failure to want to communicate.
Again, instead of being pro-active, the sport allowed something to happen that even two World Wars couldn't: a work stoppage that killed a World Series.
Thanks to hardliners like the ChiSox' Jerry Reinsdorf, the strike of 1994 left such a bad taste that generations of fans began to walk away. Once it resumed there was this sudden mass weight gain throughout.
It wasn't due to the time off, sitting on the couch and throwing down burgers and pizza. "There's money in them thar hills pardner and I gotta get me mine. And get it back fast."
They did and in spades, folks. You should know because you paid the freight.
1998 rolled around, expansion had dawned again and the expectation that the watered down pitching would lead to more homers. Boy, were the experts on target but who could have predicted?
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought baseball back from the dead and it was a magical season. One of the great sports writers of our time, Mike Lupica, wrote the wildly popular Summer of '98. He now calls that season one of the biggest frauds ever perpetuated on the public.
Ironically, Sosa was the one glaring omission from the Mitchell Report. Who woulda thunk?
Players began to show up in record numbers asking for jerseys two sizes larger and one or two extra lengths added. Homers began to fly out of ballparks as if it was batting practice. Noted 20 homer guys were making runs at Roger Maris until Mr. Androstenedione, McGwire, passed him with one line drive out of the old Busch Stadium.
It was 34 years between Babe Ruth and Maris. Thirty-seven more to McGwire.
Then like a plague, it happened. Sammy Sosa hit 60 or more three times in four years. THREE TIMES. It only took Barry Bonds three years to eclipse McGwire. And you mean to tell me no one noticed the growth in bodies and long balls?
Who is kidding whom, Mr. Commissioner?
Bud Selig had daily appointments with Chiropractors because he turned his head so much he developed neck problems. He should have been sent to Guantanamo to be interrogated, injected with truth serum before he stood up on that podium.
I was driving home from a birthday lunch with my wife when I tuned into ESPN Radio on Sirius and listened to the biggest hypocrite since Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I damn near wrecked my car.
Selig wanted to protect the "integrity of the game" yet this is the same man who called off an All Star Game because there were no more players. He is the same man who made that mid-summer classic, an exhibition for the fans only, into a World Series home field deciding contest. He rules over a sport that has separate rules depending on which side of the league you are one.
Integrity? You have to have some in order to maintain it, Mr. Commissioner.
Selig was so intent on giving his sport another black eye that he told Senator Mitchell to name names. Now there is a real stroke of genius considering Mitchell's recommendation was to not use punitive measures. But here is the kicker.
The boss man will deal with the players on a case-by-case basis.
Just what are going to be the guidelines, Mr. Commissioner? If someone bought it once, does he get one week while another get a month for four times?
Does a budding Hall of Famer get preferential treatment over a guy who has been a back-up his entire career?
Exactly what is case-by-case? A case of beer maybe?
How about those who are out of the game? Do we flash back to the days of Ford Frick by placing an asterisk next to a record like he did to Maris? How about handling this like Bowie Kuhn did with Flood?
Major League Baseball could have handled this with dignity but they chose the bull in the China closet approach. Who cares if someone has an ax to grind with another and sullies his name for the sake of publicity?
What of the innocent, Mr. Commissioner? Where was the due process before throwing out scarlet letters like autographs?
You could have had Senator Mitchell stand up and say everyone was at fault and we are making recommendations to make sure it doesn't happen again. You could have stepped up to the plate and admitted that baseball, yes, Mr. Commissioner the entire sport, was culpable and simply call it the steroid era, which would be the truth.
Then again, you were never one to let facts get in the way of a good fib, now would you?
Mr. Selig, you have made Senator Mitchell into Jose Canseco, a squealer with suspect information. Are you finally proud of yourself? Integrity? You were only trying to cover your own butt for these failings during your watch.
I could care less who the names are and I feel sorry for those who have been harmed by the allegations because, quite frankly, this entire fiasco is hearsay. No positive tests, no admissions, nothing more than a Barry Bonds exercise on a grander scale.
Keep up the good work, Mr. Commissioner. I will look forward to your next stroke of genius, like putting the World Series at a neutral site. Oh, never mind. That will make the All Star game irrelevant again.