Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report

Today is the day that the Mitchell Report is set to be released. The Mitchell Report is the report on the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, and this research was headed by George Mitchell (hence the name). Its been nearly 2 years in the making, and one would think that would be plenty of time to gather the dirt and compile a thorough report. Rumors lately, however, have suggested that the report might not be what it seems, with allegations that the investigation has made a number of mistakes along the way. I don't know what these mistakes might be, so I'm really not any type of authority on the subject, but at face value it kind of sounds like a desperate attempt by some guilty parties to cast doubt on the report.

No one can honestly deny that there has been (and continues to be) steroid use in professional baseball. In fact, I'm sure there is steroid use in practically every sport. Even Carl Edwards of NASCAR fame has been accused of using steroids. I'm not quite sure what advantage you'd get by using steroids in NASCAR, but this guy is pretty built.

There have been a number of developments leading up to the steroid investigations, most notably the increased power numbers of some players. Back when I was a kid, it seemed to be a big deal for a player to hit over 30 home runs in a season. The single-season home run record stood at 61 home runs since 1961, and even this record was just 1 home run above Babe Ruth's previous record of 60 home runs in 1927. So it seems that this mark of 60 home runs should be pretty hard to break. This came into question in the summer of 1998 when both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a race to break the record. It was really and exciting summer for baseball, and it was something that the game desperately needed to get people interested in the game again after the strike of the early 1990's drove people away. At the end of the year, both players broke the record, with McGwire hitting 70 home runs and Sosa hitting 66. Certainly it was remarkable to have 2 players break the record in the same year, and it seemed like it wouldn't happen again any time soon. But what happened the next year? McGwire came back with 65 home runs and Sosa hit 63, both besting the record of Roger Maris again.

McGwire's performance dropped off after that, but Sosa followed up those seasons with 50 home runs in 2000, and 64 in 2001. That 2001 season was also notable for another reason. Just 3 years after the record-breaking season of 1998, Barry Bonds joined in on the action and hit 73 home runs in one season. In my opinion, it was around this point that people started taking notice. How could it suddenly become relatively easy for players to hit so many home runs? It also was about this time that a reporter noticed a bottle of androstenedione in McGwire's locker. Androstenedione is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen, and was marketed as a "supplement" in the 90's. I'm not a biochemist by any means, but I'm assuming that an excess of androstenedione, or "andro" for short", would likely be converted to testosterone in males rather than females, and hence the increased performance. The curtain was lifted at this point, and people began to take notice. This was followed by revelations by certain players that they had used steroids. Former MVP Ken Caminiti was among the first to admit to steroids use, and this was soon followed by Jose Canseco's admission and his suggestions of many other players that were using steroids.

A question that remains is whether or not these players actually "cheated". Sure, steroids can improve performance, but exactly what constitutes "cheating"? At the time, Major League Baseball did not have any rules against it, and there was no drug-testing policy in place. By no means am I advocating the use of steroids, but I don't see any rule that these players broke at the time. Also, I don't believe that the use of steroids is the kind of huge difference-maker that people seem to think it is. Take a look at the list of players that have tested positive for steroids since testing began in 2002. We're not exactly talking about an all-star roster of players here. So while I'm sure that steroids can provide some boost, it's not going to turn a sub-par player into an all-star.

Preliminary discussion about the Mitchell report lists some of the usual suspects as being named. Its a virtual certainty that players like Bonds, McGwire, and Jason Giambi (who has also admitted to steroid use) will be named. Early leaks have also indicated that Roger Clemens will also be named in the report. A common criticism against players like Barry Bonds is to look at how much bigger he's gotten during his career, using pictures like before and after. If that's the case, I'm surprised that the same hasn't held true for someone like Clemens. He has also gone from rather small to pretty large, and his performance hasn't really shown any sign of decline after he turned 40. Steroids might also explain his episodes of "roid rage", such as a couple of incidents when he beaned Mike Piazza in the head, or when he threw part of a broken bat at Piazza in the 2000 World Series. This leak of Clemens' name also makes me wonder about certain other players that have only performed better with age, and also seem to have quite a temper. Does the name Kenny Rogers come to mind? I wouldn't be surprised. It will be interesting to see who is named in the report, and how this report will impact the game.

66 comments:

Matthew said...

Steroids can not give you talent. But it can make a talented ball player from being great, to being phenomenal. For example, half of McGuire's home runs were routine pop fly's, but because he was so strong (due to steroids?), they were able to "pop" out of the park.

Chris in Oxford said...

Nicely written, Jason. I think that the longer this gets dragged on the worse that MLB looks. I just have zero interest left in the leagues - it's just one thing after another.

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