As a baseball fan and a rhetorician, I feel compelled to write something on the Mitchell report. But since I'm in the midst of grading, and my baby's making that "you better be ready to pick me up" face, I'll keep this brief.
The media has consistently framed the Mitchell report as a sign of Bud Selig's complicity in the steroids era. Selig, thinking of his legacy, needs a public display that says "I cleaned up the steroids problem." He is worried, this argument goes, that he will be remembered as the commish who turned a blind eye. This very well might be true.
But I would argue that the obsessive media coverage of steroids and baseball is also significant. It represents the media's guilt over the summer of 1998. I was a cynical and sophomoric 22 that summer and remember looking at McGwire and Sosa and thinking one thing: "juice." I do not believe anyone educated enough to write for a newspaper or work for a television station could look at those players and not suspect that there was something non-natural going on. Especially people who have access to locker rooms. Especially people who could see the bottles of Andro. I know 1998 was way back before Google--but I'm pretty sure professional reporters could talk to doctors. The obsessive media coverage of performance enhancing substances is an implicit acknowledgment of culpability. They know they should have acted on what we all suspect. Their claims that "we didn't have subpoena power" is hollow and shameful. And they know it. So now the witches are contributing to the hunt.
I don't mean to come off as some superior know-it-all. I knew they were using drugs and didn't care. If a professional athlete is willing to risk health and future to smash a ball 400 feet, awesome. 500 feet? Even better. See-- I told you it was cynical and sophomoric. Only one thing makes me care about the issue now, pathetic as it is (and I mean that in the most rhetorical of senses): the children. A trickle-down economics goes something like this: if I want to make the majors, I got to make the minors, if I want to make the minors, I have to get the scholarship, if I want to get the scholarship, I have to start, if I want to start, I have to make the team, if I want to make the team, I have to play AAU, etc. At the end of the chain? Steroids. I have a 12 year old nephew who plays baseball, and he's already aware of teammates using performance enhancing drugs.
But I won't buy into the excessive hype over the history of baseball. I laugh when people ask "how do we compare Barry Bonds to Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth?" A better question would be: how do you compare Hank Aaron to Babe Ruth? Consider:
- Changes to the composition of baseballs and bats
- Radically different dimensions to ball parks
- Changes to the height of the pitcher's mound [for those who don't follow baseball, this might be the greatest change of all]
- The development of closers and middle relievers [who radically change the way the game is played--back in the 1930's no one through more than a few breaking balls an inning for risk of blowing out their arm, with specialty relievers and pitch counts, pitchers throw the nasty with particularly more frequency]
- Oh yeah, the competitive impact of minorities on the game
- The introduction of weight rooms [Cal Ripken once discussed how when we came up in the early 80's players were discouraged from lifting weights. Common wisdom was that muscle was slow. Apparently they weren't aware of "twitch" muscles]
There's probably more changes that I just can't think of right now. My point is that there are so many changes in the history of baseball that we choose to ignore: steroids is just the line in the sand. I feel that history will view the steroids phenomenon as the first public foray into the ethics of cybernetic enhancement- the first time that science threatens to greatly impact the composition of a human being. It will not be the last.