A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

From the basement November 18

BARRY BONDS

I'm happy it's ending this way. The indictment and subsequent end of his career. Bonds the villian, the monster with the enormous head, the arrogant, disdainful, egotistical, spoiled, cheating, lying Bonds. His legacy is now written as most fans want. They now have his head on a stick, the monster has been killed, the national pastime saved. If the fans are fortunate he'll be led off to jail while they all gleefully wag their sanctimonious fingers. Smug asses. I hope he remains a condescending prick until the end.

None of his prospective 30 employers wants anything to do with him. That's not a conspiracy. Really, who wants the pain in the ass at this point? It's not about his productivity, OPS a staggering 1.045 last season, in a pitchers' park, in the pitchers' league, in a woeful lineup. It's not even about the possibility of incarceration, I doubt you have to pay him or reserve a spot on the 40 man for him while he's in jail. It's about the problem he is. If you're a GM, do you want to justify signing Bonds to your owner, to the commissioner, to the press, to your fans, to your manager & coaching staff, to your veteran players, to the folks who tend to the clubhouse, to your media relations people?....NONE of them wants anything to do with the greatest baseball player of their generation.

Why were we all surprised when the indictment was announced? First, it wasn't leaked beforehand. Out of the blue it hit the wires early Thursday evening. Also Balco had become an old story that we were bored with. Barry Bonds is being investigated by a grand jury? So, what else is new? It's only been going on for 4 years, no Bonds indictment, no new athletes implicated, Anderson remains silent....yawn.

Most obviously, we ( baseball fans & media - I count myself in the former group only ) were unable to read the legal & political tea leaves. I read this piece in January about the outgoing Balco federal prosecutor - Kevin Ryan - and persuaded myself that the grand jury investigation into Bonds was a personal witch hunt of his and that it would die out subsequent to his departure. I was left with the impression of Ryan as a failed Bay Area jock with a chip on his moralistic shoulder and a Field of Dreams ( honest, he makes reference to it in the piece ) notion of baseball's importance. He didn't like cheating or cheaters and he was gonna clean up this mess.

Evidently the opposite was true. Ryan's departure was key to indicting Bonds according to Lester Munson . ( thanks to Sports Business News ) From Mr. Munson. "Last winter, President Bush obtained Ryan's resignation along with those of other U.S. Attorneys, which led to a partisan political battle. Although neither Bush nor Ryan ever discussed the Bonds investigation as a reason for Ryan's departure, numerous observers expected a Bonds indictment under the new leadership in the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco."

I went through a phase this winter - maybe a result of seasonal affective disorder combined with too much pot - when I was all Oliver Stone about Bonds and the US government. You know, steroids in the state of the union address, grand jury, Grimsley, oil, Katrina.....( think Syriana meets Eight Men Out ) and then spring came, I left the basement, got some ultraviolet exposure and forgot about it. But now I wonder again...Munson reminded me that the Balco investigation was initially announced in DC by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Was Ashcroft or his superior(s) trophy hunting? Shouldn't there be more pressing matters for the Attorney General than Victor Conte and Patrick Arnold? Wasn't Bonds the ultimate target? Anderson, why do they care? He's nothing more than a common gym rat / steroid peddler. Marion Jones? Collateral damage. The almost immediate response from the White House Thursday evening also smells funny, in fact they were aware of the indictment before Bonds. According to the AP, Bonds' lawyer ( one of his lawyers ) John Burris was unaware of the indictment when they contacted him....is that normal protocol...Oliver? Mr. Stone?

GEORGE MITCHELL

The end of Bonds' career sets the stage perfectly for George Mitchell. As Jeff Blair put it, the fans have their "pound of flesh". Now we can move forward. We're sick of reading and hearing about steroids, we're ready for healing and forgiveness. We want to like baseball, to believe that it is fair and good.

Mitchell will present overwhelming evidence that the game was dirty. Fans know that, no surprise to any of us. Mitchell will provide a platform, that MLB controls, from which MLB can manage the message. Mitchell is a company man don't forget, Blue Ribbon panel member, Red Sox Director and long rumored commissioner ( too old now ). Initially MLB will express surprise at the extent of PED usage detailed by Mitchell, followed by constant apologies from MLB for their negligence and "betrayal of the fans", followed by solemn, ironclad guarantees that this era is over, that testing is working & will be strengthened, it's all under control. And the fans will eat it up big time, because they're ready to, because cheating ( at least chemically ) isn't fun anymore, because they'll enjoy the contrived public self-flagellation, because it's what they want to hear, because they never really cared in the first place ( not enough to stay away ) because Bonds has been punished and that is right and is simple and makes sense.

Will MLB punish any of the players implicated by Mitchell? Unlikely. The owners don't desire a protracted legal battle with the PA which would keep this issue in the baseball press. Also, MLB gains nothing by publicly embarrassing the players. The players are the product. Instead MLB will tell us that they are responsible for allowing a climate which rewarded cheating and punished clean players. MLB needs the fans to like the players. We'll be told it wasn't their fault, they're good guys, their behavior was a natural reaction to the era in which they played.

THE FUTURE

What is the future of PEDs in MLB? I believe there was less juice in the game this season as evidenced by the notable decline in HRs. This probably has little to do with MLB's testing and everything to do with the Federal Government. The Grimsley, Radomski, Balco, Signature investigations have been much more effective in unearthing dirty players than anything MLB has done. I.E. This quote from an MLB.com piece from February 22. "Last season, no player on the 25-man roster of the 30 teams tested positive." Everybody was clean in 06? Stunning. Then why are the feds turning up scads of evidence of baseball players illegally purchasing PEDs?

But how long will the Feds remain interested in the problem of illegal steroid distribution? ( The pro athletes implicated in these investigations are not the primary targets, save for Bonds / Balco ) Will a change in administration be the end of it? If yes, does that mean MLB's testing will be the only deterrent to the use of PEDs?

Even if the will exists to remove PEDs completely from the game, ( and it doesn't ) is that a realistic objective? Are the chemists up to the challenge? For decades, in elite sports around the globe, amateur and professional, the cheaters have remained far ahead of the regulators. For all the efforts of WADA ( my Canada does not include Dick Pound ), governing bodies, pro leagues, cheating is as widespread - maybe more widespread - than ever. Is this because the rewards are greater for the cheaters? Does Patrick Arnold stand to benefit more working for Victor Conte than he does Bud Selig? There isn't even a test for HGH, so how do you prevent it's use? ( Some think that the benefits of HGH are overstated anyway ). More evidence of the ineffectiveness of testing in MLB was revealed in the 03 "survey" testing which concluded that 5 - 7 % of players were dirty. Laughable, ludicrous. Does anybody, fan, writer, player, owner, trainer, clubhouse gopher, coach, GM believe that in a typical 03 MLB game there were only 3 to 4 dirty players? And this test was conducted under conditions - anonymous, no punishment - which discouraged players from avoiding detection. Under different conditions, punitive measures for positive tests, would the results have been even lower? If the testing is that ineffective, is it fair? If we want fairness, let's turn back the clock and allow all the players to take whatever the hell they please.

Do we, the fans, honestly want a clean game? Do we want the players in the training room more frequently and on the field less? More importantly, do we want players who are smaller, weaker, slower? The evolution of the athlete, in every sport on every continent, is a fundamental element of the appeal. And for the past 30 years, steroids, blood doping, HGH etc. have been essential to that evolution. Fans think they want a clean game but if faced with it we wouldn't like it as much.

Does the industry, management and labor, want a clean game? Business is booming. who wants to change a winning formula? Certainly not owners. And the PA? If this were a John Sayles movie, Donald Fehr would be Chris Cooper, and he would be on a crusade to remove steroids & amphetamines from the game because they are destroying the lives of players and their families and lining the pockets of evil captialists. But this isn't a John Sayles movie and the agents' only concern is how large their 5% cut is, not if their client dies an early death from liver damage.

The last word to the smartest sports fans on the Web - The Sports Economists . From Professor Phil Miller's January 25 posting. "The reason why steroids are tolerated in sports while gambling is fought tenaciously is because steroids help the bottom line of team owners while gambling hurts it." That isn't about to change.

1 comment:

Diesel said...

While you know my sentiments in re: Barry Bonds, I agree with almost everything you say in re: PEDs, except for one thing:

There will be no mea culpa from Selig. Maybe a sigh, maybe a shrug of the shoulders, but that's about it.

Selig has gone out of his way to paint the game — and by proxy, himself and other owners — as the victims of subterfuge on the part of the players. The purpose of the Mitchell investigation was to lay everything at the feet of the users, since I've yet to hear anything about Mitchell investigating the complicity of the teams or baseball as an instution in regard to PED use. And if you bring up the issue of baseball's non-testing (and lack of an explicit ban) for PEDs, they hide behind the tired line of the Players Association blocking it.

I can't help but think that this is a case of the pimps blaming the pros for prostitution.