Monday, December 17, 2007

In the Wake of The Mitchell Report: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

This week we have a guest blogger: Evan Makovsky, my son, is a sports talk show radio host on KFNS, the all-sports radio station in St. Louis. Evan has combed the 400-page Mitchell Report with the following reactions.

Should those accused of being cheaters be admitted to Baseball’s Hall of Fame? That’s one of the main questions being bandied about in the sports pages in the wake of the release of The Mitchell Report. However, is that the key question?

The nation’s pastime has suffered a tremendous black eye. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with how to salvage the sport and rebuild its tarnished reputation? What about the nation’s youth? What kind of message does all this send? That cheating is okay as long as you don’t get caught?

The current debate is framed thusly:

As the public is reacting to Senator George Mitchell's report released last week about the longtime use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball, many are trying to figure out how to process it. The biggest name inside the report is Roger Clemens. The allegations claim that former Blue Jays and Yankees trainer Brian McNamee injected Clemens on several occasions with steroids over a couple-year period. According to McNamee, he also provided Human Growth Hormone to Andy Pettitte. On Saturday, Pettitte publicly confessed to these allegations, but said that he used HGH twice to recover quicker from an elbow injury in 2002. HGH usually isn't a prescribed remedy for an elbow injury, especially prescriptions not written by a doctor. Regardless, Roger Clemens, through a statement, has denied the steroid allegations. Clemens and Pettitte used to work out all the time together during baseball season, and at Clemens' home in Houston during the off-season. They both worked with Brian McNamee during the season and off-season through the Yankees, and personally.

A few questions: How will Pettitte's admission affect Clemens' denial? I'd say negatively. Why would McNamee tell the truth about one, but not about the other? While Clemens has denied it, via his attorney, he has not sued for libel, as he would place himself in court in a position where he would be sworn to tell the truth. Therefore, would Clemens be better off if he were to admit steroid use, and apologize? I believe 'yes' because the public is forgiving towards people who admit 'wrongdoing', but resentful towards 'liars'. The other major question is along with Bonds (who is currently under indictment for perjury), will Clemens' Hall of Fame chances be nullified or diminished? I don't know. Steroids weren’t banned by baseball at the time. In addition, while Bonds' numbers skyrocketed during his "juicing" years, Clemens may have improved but never topped some of his past great years. Regardless, that doesn't justify Clemens cheating if he in fact did. There is a 5-year grace period between retirement and Hall of Fame Eligibility, so there is plenty of time for this to play itself out. We may have more than 5 with Bonds and Clemens as well, because reportedly both are entertaining playing in '08. If Bonds started using steroids after '98 (as the evidence points to), and Clemens started in 2000 (as "The Mitchell Report" details), I say they both still go to the Hall, because they both had Hall resumes prior to those years. Steroid use was banned by baseball in September 2002.

There are more factors here, as this is anything but a black and white issue. In fact it's all gray. Should cheaters be allowed in the Hall of Fame, period? Pete Rose isn't in the Hall of Fame. Shoeless Joe Jackson, and no one from the 1919 Black Sox are in. There are varying degrees of crime. Roger Clemens isn't facing criminal charges, and a lot of the details in the report are hearsay. In fact, the only reason Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts is mentioned in the report is because ex-teammate Larry Bigbie said Roberts told him he 'once injected steroids'. That is hardly damning evidence. Just like murder, there are varying degrees of crime in this report, and hardly a "pass/fail" issue, so how to make sense of and deal with it probably won't make sense to everyone.

While this debate on who should be allowed into the Hall of Fame will undoubtedly continue, the Lords of Baseball should really be asking themselves about how to save their sport.

We can offer a few suggestions:
o It is clearly time for new leadership at the top. Baseball needs a new commissioner, preferably someone of stature with a legal / prosecutorial background, even though this report was sanctioned by the current leadership. Commissioner Selig, however, has not taken definitive action for years.

o Compliance! Compliance! Compliance! Testing policies need to change and be forcefully administered on a timely basis (testing should include the off-season as well). Currently, there is no test for HGH.

o For years the owners, and, we suspect, the Players Union, appeared to have looked the other way on the issue; they, particularly the owners, must be held accountable as well and knowingly countenancing cheating should be severely sanctioned (e.g., denying draft picks, fines, etc.).

o And, as to the Hall of Fame issue… Any player who is proven to be guilty of steroid use once it was deemed illegal, should automatically be banned from consideration for the Hall.

Tough medicine? Assuredly so. However, the message that cheating won’t be tolerated must be sent if the sport is to regain its credibility.

Technorati Tags: Evan Makovsky, The Mitchell Report, baseball, Hall of Fame, performance enhancing drugs, Roger Clemens, steroids, Brian McNamee, Human Growth Hormone , Andy Pettitte, Brian Roberts, business,communications, public relations

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