Friday, December 14, 2007
The Mitchell Report
Baseball is a game that puts vast importance on history. We love to compare eras and the major records are considered sacred. I can still tell you exactly what I was doing when Mark McGwire broke the single-season home run record, and I can tell you I watched a whole lot of Giants games to see Barry Bonds break the career record. For comparison's sake, football has many records (single season touchdown or yardage records are probably most important individual statistics), but none of them are as "sacred" as baseball's records.
One of the interesting results of the historical nature of the game is the way the public glazes over the changes in the game. At one point, the pitcher's mounds were not a standard height. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, were reputed to have the highest pitching mound in the majors for years. They were also known as a team that trotted out great pitchers year after year. Also, at one point, the spitball was legal. Players that couldn't throw fastballs could "doctor" the baseball. We have spitballers in the Hall of Fame, though. I feel like the public misses this important distinction in their constant complaints against steroids - people have done absolutely anything they can to gain a competitive edge in baseball. The Steroid Era is different, but it's not enough to justify the circus that has been made of the game.
I played baseball for a number of years as a child. I will happily attest to the fact that hitting a ball is hard in Little League, and it doesn't get any easier as you get older. Pitches begin to curve and sink, instead of simply coming straight in. The ability of today's players to hit a ball is phenomenal, and steroids don't enhance their vision or coordination. There will always be people complaining about how Barry Bonds took drugs, but how about his teammate Marvin Benard? Was it okay for Benard to take steroids because he wasn't as good, even with them?
Finally, I think the steroid controversy ought to serve as a reminder of how great the players outside the Mitchell Report really are. From Greg Maddux to Tony Gwynn, there have been plenty of "honest" players who didn't use performance enhancers and still managed to dominate the game. Maybe we ought to use the Mitchell Report to recognize the names that were unmentioned, as the true "Greats of the Game," who dominated an era even though they were chemically inferior to their competition.
Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty