|Naming names a start, but don't leave out numbers|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 13 October 2007 12:53|
However, if that's all baseball investigator George Mitchell's long-awaited report on steroid use does, it will generate little heat and even less light.
That was my opinion back when commissioner Bud Selig deputized the former Senate majority leader in the wake of the March 2006 release of the book ``Game of Shadows.''
Nothing that's happened since, including reports about a conference call Friday during which all 30 clubs were warned of the ``eventuality'' one of their players would be outed by Mitchell's commission, has changed that.
Most of us are already resigned to the fact that some of the biggest sluggers in the game over the past 15 years have been juiced.
Plenty of those names are already out there. Jose Canseco boasted about it in a best-selling book. Fans recently voted to send Barry Bonds' record-breaking 756th home run ball to the Hall of Fame with an asterisk.
Ever since his embarrassing testimony before a congressional committee two years ago, Mark McGwire has been living a kind of self-exile in a pricey California cul-de-sac. Rafael Palmeiro got caught red-handed. Active stars Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield have confessed - sort of, anyway - and another half-dozen names have leaked out of an Albany, N.Y., investigation into the sale of performance-enhancing drugs via the Internet.
While the reputations of all those players has suffered to varying degrees, none has been prosecuted. That's fine, too.
Punishment never was the point of the Mitchell commission, since nearly all the violations under investigation occurred before 2006, when stiffer penalties finally put some teeth into MLB's drug policy.
So most of the new names on Mitchell's list, assuming there are any, likely will draw the 10-day suspensions that were in force at the time.
No matter. The most valuable contribution the report can make when it's released, sometime between the end of the World Series and the end of the calendar year, is to provide some context for the whole ``supersized'' era. Baseball's still-inadequate-but-improving testing program has uncovered the occasional power-hitter, but also a few rag-armed relievers and aging utility men trying to cash a few more major-league checks.
For those of us who want to compare the accomplishments of this generation with past ones - the fabric that supposedly binds baseball through the years - it's less important to know who was juiced than how many. It hardly seems like too much to ask, especially since the game's higherups know most fans won't demand even that much.
``None of us know what's in that thing,'' Selig said at the NL championship series in Phoenix, when asked about what might be in Mitchell's report. ``There's nothing to be afraid of. Whatever comes out, comes out. I have no concern.''
Neither, apparently, does most of his fan base. Baseball set attendance records this season, enjoyed higher TV ratings almost across the board, and raked in enough cash to make hedge-fund managers green with envy.
Even now, if you polled the audience on what percentage of players on the four remaining teams in the playoffs were still using performance-enhancing substances, no one would be surprised by estimates of one-quarter or more. Yet, that figure would be about 20 percentage points or so higher than the number who would be upset enough to turn off their TV sets.
So maybe that's the real news in Friday's revelations. An ESPN.com report on the conference call said Thomas Carlucci, an attorney who previously worked with Mitchell and now serves as a liaison between the commission and the clubs, told them the final report would be ``salacious.''
Maybe, but the guess here is that any lasting outrage it might have sparked dissipated long ago. Bonds' depressing, drawn-out pursuit of Henry Aaron's once-cherished mark proved as much.
A few new names might anger fans of a few clubs, but they'll be forgiven soon enough. The only way Mitchell and his commission will make a real difference is if instead of a few big names, they dropped a really big number. Say, somewhere in the 50 percent range.
That's still on the low side of what Canseco's best guess was, but it's big enough that even the most jaded observers will find it impossible to ignore.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press, Write to him at jlitkeap.org