|'It's important for him to get a fix on what happened and why'|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 12 December 2007 02:03|
The Mitchell report on drug use in baseball that Selig commissioned 20 months ago is expected to be released Thursday and for all the speculation that preceded it, the only thing we know for certain is that it's going to make a lot of people mad. There will be too many names for some, not enough for others and plenty of blame to go around.
After extensive reporting for ESPN.com, Howard Bryant found that general managers, trainers and strength coaches expect to shoulder more than their fair share, in no small part because they were among the few people who could be compelled to show up for interviews.
Said one GM: ``This report is going to be total B.S. It's going to blame us for everything, because we don't have anyone in our corner. The owners aren't going to blame themselves, are they?''
Of course not.
But neither is anyone else connected to the game.
Long after everybody knew steroid use was out of control, most were still waiting for someone else to come along and clean up the mess. That was never clearer than on a cold spring night in Washington, D.C., when a baseball executive wandered outside a congressional hearing room in March 2005 during a break in the proceedings.
Lawmakers had called baseball on the carpet to answer for its laughable drug-testing program and it's a good thing the slaughter rule wasn't in effect. Things were going that badly for the visitors.
The hearings turned sad early on, when two fathers told stories of losing sons to suicide because those kids believed the advice from coaches and scouts ``to get bigger'' meant by any means necessary, including the reckless use of steroids. Next came a handful of current and former major leaguers claiming they saw no steroid use in the clubhouse, rarely discussed it, and never learned enough about any potential abusers to make confronting them worthwhile.
The only dissenter was former MVP and disgraced best-selling author Jose Canseco.
``It was as acceptable in the late '80s and the mid-90s,'' he said, ``as a cup of coffee.''
Most of the congressmen were furious. Just as a few began eyeing Selig and union chief Donald Fehr like a pair of pinatas, a 15-minute break was called.
``How did it get to this?'' I asked the executive.
``Off the record? We never believed steroids could help you play baseball,'' he replied. ``Football? Sure. Run faster, lift more weights? Absolutely. You couldn't miss that. But all of us, including Bud - maybe, especially Bud - just never saw the connection between that stuff and hitting a baseball.''
By then Selig had already dispatched a panel of experts on a junket to Latin America to find out if factory workers there were winding the baseballs too tight. He had a few more experts call Canada to inquire whether the new bats being fashioned from ash were too hard. The commissioner kept looking in all the wrong places until the book ``Game of Shadows'' came out, and that's when he turned to Mitchell.
Selig didn't return a call to his office Tuesday before heading out, but I got the same executive on the phone. He said the commissioner wouldn't lose any sleep awaiting release of the report, just the opposite.
``Bud is glad he did it and glad it's done,'' he said. ``It's important for him to get a fix on what happened and why it happened.''
If the Mitchell report answers that, we might be closer to the end of the supersized era than the beginning. Punishing individual players for past use, no matter how many or how surprising, will anger fans of a few clubs, but the players will be forgiven soon enough. And without a test for human growth hormone, baseball's drug policy still has a gaping loophole in it.
Even so, and even if the little bit of accountability the Mitchell report parcels out comes late, it's better than none at all. I've long maintained that more important than the names are the numbers, that the only way to give context to the explosive era we've just witnessed was not simply knowing who was juiced, but how many.
Drug testing may catch only the careless and stupid, but it's already nabbed power hitters, rag-armed pitchers and utility infielders alike. If Mitchell did his job, the report will go a step further and unleash a blizzard of details: how many players gamed the system, why the people in charge always seemed to be looking the other way, who deserves to be punished and how.
Then it will be up to Selig to convince us that baseball won't be traveling down that same road again anytime soon. He's had plenty of time to rehearse.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org