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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

From the basement December 26


I think MLB is pretty happy, honest. I don't think they wanted this or orchestrated it but they are certainly making the most of it.

MLB is show biz and I'm a believer that no publicity.....The Mitchell Report has been on the radar screen of us geeks for at least 20 months. The Mitchell Report only gets on the radar screen of the rank & file - who comprise most of the 79 million who attended last season - after it is released. How valuable is the widespread coverage it received on the evening news, the front pages, talk radio?.....It gets people talking about baseball and that can't be all bad.

MLB is plenty astute and sophisticated enough to manage public opinion. In fact The Mitchell Report is reinforcing an important message for MLB - a message that they have always promoted - which is that baseball is important to the "social fabric" of America or whatever....Didn't Mitchell tell us that "it is imperative for Major League Baseball to 'capture the moral high ground'." I think you're more likely to find this sort of opinion amongst general columnists and talking heads than in the baseball media. The baseball press made up their minds long ago and I think the general consensus is that yes the game is / was dirty but so is everybody else's so big deal. But the evening news and front pages of newspapers reach an audience much broader - and more important to MLB - than us hardcores. This is where the idea that baseball is important to America is reinforced and promoted. That ballparks are places where for generations, family, friends, colleagues & neighbors - America - gather in harmony. It's a tradition, not a business. How can the discussion and reinforcement of these notions be bad for your product?

Early indicators are that it's not having a negative impact on MLB. A lot of teams, including the Yankees, are hiking ticket prices and there has been no negative impact on MLB's credit rating.

In the near future, MLB will take great advantage of the big stage afforded them by Congress to solemnly ensure that they now recognize the scope of the problem and will take the necessary steps to protect the sanctity of the national pastime and blah, blah. More important is the grievance filed by the PA on behalf of Guillen. If the PA wins the grievance this will get very interesting. The dirty players "outed" in Mitchell will be able to tell MLB to shove it - I hope they do but I digress - but the PA, for the health of the industry can't be perceived as uncooperative...

Longer term, the real issues are articulated below by folks smarter than me in this piece.

“You have to remember these are commercial enterprises which oversee their own testing and that is an unacceptable conflict of interest because profit-making operations don’t want the negative publicity of catching all the drug cheats,” said John Hoberman, who has written books on doping in sports.

"Testing catches the careless and the stupid,” said Charles E. Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Penn State University. “If you believe only 1 to 2 percent use drugs, that is incredibly na├»ve. Drug use is the greatest problem facing elite sports, and testing creates the facade that everyone is clean.”“The major breakthroughs have come from law enforcement, not by any testing,” he said. “Testing is there to provide the fan, who is already disinterested in drug use, with plausible deniability because the leagues tell the fans the athletes are clean because they have drug testing.”

I surfed through my blog looking for Mitchell / steroids commentary and I think some of it holds up pretty well.

From the basement January 30

Fans know the players are juiced, we've known for years and evidently most of us don't care. The fans who expend the most time and energy on this subject are the hardcore geeks like myself and we will never abandon the game over drugs / cheating, because we love it. The casual fans, who comprise most of the gate, don't engage in these debates. They want cold beer, sunny weather, a 6-4-3 double play, a home run, a win for the good guys and a game played in under 3 hours.

From the basement Feb 23

MLB.com is a shill for the owners. Yesterday there was a fluff piece on the George Mitchell investigation, his stormtroopers are touring Spring Training. The last paragraph of the story is I think indicative of what we're going to be seeing from MLB in their efforts to manage the "issue".

"In the meantime, documented steroid use at the big-league level has become almost infinitesimal, down from the 5-to-7 percent of players who tested positive in 2003. Last season, no player on the 25-man roster of the 30 teams tested positive. It was announced after the postseason that Mets reliever Guillermo Mota had tested positive and he will be suspended the requisite 50 games to open the 2007 season."

So MLB is going to be pounding home two messages on the steroid front. 1. George Mitchell will tell us as definitively as anyone can, what happened. 2. Testing is working, positive tests are on the decline ( see paragraph above ).

As I said before, the results of the 03 "anonymous" testing that revealed 5 - 7 % of players positive seems absurdly low.

For MLB.com to describe present day steroid use at the big league level as "infinitesimal" is ridiculous. Well at least I did learn how to spell infinitesimal" from this PR piece.

Any baseball fan who claims that they didn't know that steroid use was commonplace in MLB over the last 15 - 20 years is either naive or lying.

Steroids and amphetamines will remain in the game, it's the perception of what's happening that is being controlled, not drug use.

The question that I want answered is why so much talk about it the last few years? We all knew Big Mac & Sammy were juiced, nobody said anything. What has changed? Has the zeitgeist done a 180 in America? Or is the zeitgeist unchanged, is Barry Bonds symbolic of something that a lot of Americans dislike? Maybe I don't need Buster Olney, maybe I need Lewis Lapham. ( and my bong ).

From the basement March 22

Roger Noll, Economics Professor at Stanford, makes an interesting comment, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with, on the subject of MLB's approach to dealing with "PEDs". ( As I'm seeing them referenced more and more frequently. ) "Kuhn vigorously tried to cleanse baseball of hard drugs, which did not go down well with some owners when a valuable player was suspended. While his policies and actions may have been excessively harsh, at least they were clear and fairly implemented, unlike baseball's current policies and practices regarding performance-enhancing drugs." Management in pro sports use drug policies to punish players who step out of line. The story is not that the athletes take PED's, it's the politics of who gets tested when and if they are tipped as to when they will be tested and are the results of the test made public or ignored. What percentage of players in the NFL are juiced? What percentage of the same group test positive? To what do we attribute the discrepancy in the 2 numbers? I think the explanations run deeper than simply that the cheaters are ahead of the regulators in the doping labs.

From the basement March 30

Jose Canseco is being ridiculed in the press again, the latest, he's at the centre of some reality TV thing blah blah blah. Jose was always an easy target because he is gauche, conceited, huge and he never met a microphone he didn't like. But the guys who get blackballed out of the game, Canseco, Caminiti & Rocker, are the guys that can tell the truth. You can't tell the truth if you want to remain close to the game, be a spring training instructor, be a broadcaster, coach at any level, be invited for old timers day, get invited to the owners box, or even look former teammates in the eye again. Caminiti & Canseco told the truth about steroids after they knew they had burned their bridges. Rocker told the truth about the farce that is sensitivity training when Ozzie Guillen got his wrist slapped last season over an anti gay slur. Yeah they're all nut jobs but that doesn't mean they weren't telling the truth.

From the basement November 12


When it is finally released - expected now this offseason - there will be saturation coverage in the baseball press. An anonymous team official has been quoted as saying that the report will be "salacious". No doubt it will. Between BALCO, Radomski, Grimsley, Signature etc., there is no shortage of names to be named. Buster Olney thinks dozens of players, current and retired, will be implicated.

This will be the latest overreported "athlete conduct" story. Fans have proven - we'll tell you differently if asked - that we don't care about "athlete conduct". I.E. Vick, Pac Man, Browne Saunders / Thomas / Dolan, Bonds / BALCO etc. The NFL has not suffered, Knicks season ticket renewals were very strong, 79 million of us ( well, not me ) walked through turnstiles this season at MLB games and the beat goes on....Only the writers and blog geeks care if this era is "tainted", if there should be asterisks, how it will impact HOF voting, yada. ( Yes I'm a blog geek but if I ever participate in an online argument about asterisks in baseball somebody please come to my basement and shoot me. ) The Mitchell Report will have zero impact on the popularity of MLB.

From the basement November 18

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.

1 comment:

Jim Adolf said...

I agree with you that fans will keep paying for tickets and merchandise, and MLB will continue to make a killing. But for the hardcore fans, the students of baseball history, the "steroids era" will tarnish the legacy of those named in the Mitchell Report. Roger Clemens will always be a rich man; but will he be considered in the same breath with Cy Young? Will he even be inducted into the Hall of Fame? I guess what I'm saying is there will be consequences to all this, just not financial consequences.