OK, now we know. Baseball is delivering its early Christmas present tomorrow, with the announcement of George Mitchell’s 20-month investigation into drug use in baseball.
Now, while this report promises to be titillating, I can’t help but question what good it will do for baseball in the long run. If there’s a single name mentioned that surprises anybody, then you simply haven’t been paying attention all these years. And if it slows down the attempt by players to gain an edge through any means possible, I’d be shocked. The only thing that will really affect change will be cooperation between the owners and the Players Association to bring in more comprehensive drug testing, and to start imparting a message that performance-enhancers won’t be tolerated. Personally, I think that a clause in every players’ contract that is similar to the one for gambling _ namely, that participation brings a ban for life _ would be a wonderful step, but I’m sooner expecting to see Dorothy fall out of the sky.
As for the investigation itself, it’s likely to have a lot of holes. Howard Bryant, who once upon a time covered the A’s for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote an excellent comprehensive piece for ESPN.com on the details of the investigation, and let’s just say there is much that’s left to be desired. The gist I get from it is that baseball is looking for a scapegoat, and if that’s the case, then they missed the boat as badly as the Warren Commission.
Meantime, the real issue is whether this will have any impact on fans going out to the ballpark. Baseball generated a record $6 billion in revenue last season, even as new players were linked to controversies, and Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record brought with it endless discussion about the impact of steroids. So it sure doesn’t seem like fans give a mularkey about the fact that players are using this stuff.
Until they do, baseball really has no reason to police itself. This report was intended to appease Congress, and only time will tell if it does. It is, no matter how baseball spins it, not an attempt to rid the drug culture from the game. I’m afraid that might be with us to stay.