Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Is there any value to the Mitchell report?
By Eric Neel and Jim Caple
Eric Neel and Jim Caple love baseball, so they started e-mailing each other to figure out what value (if any) we would get from the findings in the Mitchell report.
Eric Neel: I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, Jim, because I know from
watching television and listening to the radio and reading our site that
it's an event on par with the release of the Warren Commission findings, but
I don't see what all the fuss over the Mitchell report is about. Enlighten
me. Tell me why it matters, why I should care what it says ...
Jim Caple: I would if I could. But I'm as puzzled as you are. As best I can
figure, it won't tell us anything more than we've known for years. That
professional athletes who can make untold millions of dollars would take a
substance that improves their performance. I'm shocked. Shocked! I tell you.
Eric: Ah yes, you're one of them hardened journalist types. But let's press
the point a bit. Let's say the report includes the names of big-name players
who have used, guys whose pictures are on the covers of media guides and
video games, will that surprise and disappoint the average fan, do you
Jim: It probably would disappoint some fans but I would imagine they would
react the way most do. If it's a guy on the other team, they'll complain. If
he's on their team, they won't believe it. But I don't think we're going to
get a bunch of big names. I think we're going to get more of the same from
the past few years. And this will just continue to drag out more and more.
Which is why I'm still trying to figure out the point of the report in the
first place. Why would baseball go out of its way to launch an investigation
that will only make it look bad and prolong an issue that has been discussed
ad nauseam? From the league's standpoint, where is the upside?
Eric: The upside, clumsily grabbed at as it is, is to look busy, to look
concerned, to look serious, isn't it? The general public, and most of us
with laptops love to skewer Barry Bonds, but it's pretty much conventional wisdom
now that baseball itself is just as culpable for the steroid era as any
player. The Mitchell project, at least on the surface, is meant to look like
the beginning of a new era. Mitchell is a serious man with an impeccable
reputation and a record of significant real-world diplomacy. Baseball wants
to widen the gap between its front office and the shadowy hallways where
players and suppliers allegedly do their deals. So it aligns itself with
Mitchell and tells us his word turns the page, scrubs the game clean. It's
window dressing, a car-mirror air freshener disguised as the morning after a
You describe fans above as having homerish blinders on, which certainly
describes a big part of the fan base. However, don't you think the bigger concern
for baseball isn't that they won't care because none of the guys named are
one of "their" guys, but that they won't care because they have no real
expectations that anyone in the game -- Bonds, Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, even their
favorite players on their favorite teams -- is above reproach at this point?
Jim: I really don't think the general public is as outraged as the media. I
think fans know and accept that players in baseball and football and most
other sports have juiced and are juicing -- and they don't mind. Attendance
certainly hasn't fallen.
If baseball wants to move on, it should move on. This investigation
only gives columnists and talk show hosts more fodder to express their
"disgust'' and anger, just as they have for several years now (though
clearly not when Mark McGwire was bopping home runs and "saving'' baseball
in 1998). It only drags it out longer. Rather than send out Mitchell
to look under more rocks, it should take the NFL approach by pretending that
its "tough'' testing policy has cleaned up the sport no matter how big the
Eric: Denial. Repression. You may be on to something there. It's been the
survival strategy for my dysfunctional family tree for generations. You've
pegged maybe my biggest frustration with the Mitchell-O-Rama: It doesn't
resolve anything. Beyond maybe cutting short the careers and limiting the
earning power of the specific players it names, it doesn't accomplish
anything at all. It doesn't change the history of intentional neglect on the
part of the league and the union. It doesn't change the decisions made by
individuals who used. And it doesn't put to rest the suspicions
of those who have concerns about the role of performance-enhancing drugs now and in
the future (because I don't think everyone is where you are: satisfied to
just live with juice as a fact of life). It pretends to scratch a
metaphysical itch, it plays at resolving something out of whack, at healing
something sick, but we know it doesn't do these things. It's like our
enthusiasm for wanting it to matter is all that is making it matter. We're
so desperate for resolution, so hungry for an end to this mess, that we've
invested the Mitchell Show with meaning it can't carry.
Jim: Mostly it just keeps baseball looking bad for a problem that is worse
in other sports.
Here's what Bud should say:
"I'm sorry about the steroids thing. We were slow to act. But we're always
slow to act. Hell, it took the Cubs until 1988 to discover electricity.
Everyone knows we should have taken care of this long ago. We didn't and we
were wrong. For that I apologize. But we have now instituted the toughest
testing policy in sports and are ready to turn the page and watch our
national pastime continue to grow. Thank you for loyal support. And go
Really, at this point, what more needs to be said?
Eric: First you were a jaded writer-type and now you're a wild-eyed crazy
dreamer. But I'm with you. That's the only thing to be said. And not just by Selig. By anyone. Our expectations are so low now that half of us who care about baseball have convinced ourselves that Jason Giambi's marble-mouthed
apology was actually a stand-up move. The only real value in this report, no
matter who it does or doesn't name, is that it highlights what it is we
really want: Someone to talk straight. No hedging, no spinning, no playing
politics. Just say what you did or didn't do. Say why. Apologize. Or don't.
And then we move on. Even Bonds would come out smelling good if he were bold
enough to make that move.
Jim: Actually, I don't care about that. I just want people to be consistent.
If you want to condemn baseball, fine, but also condemn the NFL too, where a
mere glance at the bodies tells you the problem is worse. If you want to
condemn the players for taking steroids, fine, but condemn the owners --
including a former owner who lectured the nation on the evils of PEDs in the
State of the Union address -- for signing them. If you want to condemn the
current era of players, fine, but remember the players from your youth
likely took greenies, which is now an officially banned substance. If you
don't want to vote for a player for the Hall of Fame, fine, but be careful
you never praised him for "saving the game'' with his home runs. And as long
as we're condemning people, better condemn ourselves for rooting for so many
guys we suspect are juiced, just because we like them or they wear "our''
Eric: But people aren't consistent. And baseball isn't pure. And that isn't
limited to drug use. It includes race prejudice and game-fixing and
ownership collusion, and the list goes on and on. You can outlaw PEDs, but
you can't guarantee they're going away, all the way away, forever. There
will always be some threat of some kind of engineering. That's the byproduct
of intense competition, for rings and dollars. So given that consistency is
even more of a pipe dream than your call for Selig's public mea culpa, and
given that we both agree that Mitchell's report is a potentially colossal
waste of paper, what, if anything helps where we are now? How do we
incorporate what's likely happened and, as you say, "move on"?
Jim: Simple. We ignore the report, ignore the screaming media and turn our
attention to more important issues, like whether the Twins will really trade
Eric: If they give him up for less than Jacoby Ellsbury AND Clay Buchholz, I
won't need a report or a confession; I'll KNOW Twins GM Bill Smith is using.