"The majority of players followed the laws and followed the rules. And that's the one point I've been trying to make in the twenty months I've been involved with this is the principle victims of illegal use by players are the other players who follow the rules and follow the law."
That was Senator Mitchell speaking to Jeremy Schapp of ESPN just after his extensive report of illegal drugs in baseball came out.
"Again, most of the players didn't use drugs. To not indict Bonds would be an insult to every honest, hard-working player, who played the game the right way. To not go after Bonds would reward every player who cheated and would be a slap in the face to every player who didn't—Henry Aaron included. Every home run Henry Aaron hit would be the home run of a fool, who didn't cheat."
That was me, a month ago.
Aside from bragging that I pre-echoed Senator Mitchell's main point, the reason I bring these two quotes is to bolster the main point of this article:
All players who took illegal drugs and cheated at the game of baseball must be punished and their records should be expunged from all annuls of baseball. To not, is to reward every cheater and to insult every honest player who played the game the right way. Further, to hold both the cheaters' records and the honest players' records in the same light is to postumously reward cheating. And that cannot stand.
Senator Mitchell, who gets it right most of the time in his report, advocates amnesty for all past crimes. His point is we shouldn't drag out this black period in baseball any further. While I understand his point, I disagree. And I'll use the Senator's own words in my point.
"(The players who didn't cheat are) faced with an awful choice of either becoming illegal users themselves, or being put at a competitive disadvantage." Exactly right. So the players who played honestly and acheived a place in the record books, not only chose to play honestly, their accomplishments were acheived against those who had a competitve advantage.
To further prove my point, here are some stats of Roger Clemens while he was on the smack:
1997 264.0 IP, 2.04 ERA, 292 strikeouts
1998 234.2 IP, 2.65 ERA, 271 strikeouts
2000 108.2 IP, 3.15 ERA, 98 strikeouts (Second Half)
2001 66.1 IP, 4.61 ERA, 70 strikeouts (Second Half)
Here are his stats while he was off the junk:
1996 242.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 257 strikeouts
1999 187.2 IP, 4.60 ERA, 163 strikeouts
2000 95.2 IP, 4.33 ERA, 90 strikeouts (First half)
2001 113.2 IP, 4.20 ERA, 122 strikeouts (First half)
2002 180.0 IP, 4.35 ERA, 192 strikeouts
In 1998, Brian McNamee said he injected the steroids into Clemens' buttocks after the Jays returned home from a trip to Florida. Up to that point Clemens was 6-6 with a 3.27 ERA. After that: 14-0 with a 2.29 ERA.
So, tell me....why should Greg Maddux—or for that matter, Whitey Ford, or Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax—have to share their records and their achievements next to a guy who obviously used drugs to get his?
And now, Jason Zombie's stats on the stuff:
2001 .367BA/.493OBP/.709SP (Second half)
2003 .267BA/.419OBP/.547SP (First half)
2001 .322BA/.463OBP/.618SP (First half)
2003 .226BA/.401OBP/.498SP (Second half)
Again, why should he be rewarded, or at the very least, exempt from having his records expunged, when we can clearly see those record were achieved due to cheating? Why should this guy be next to Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays or Frank Thomas?
A lot of people disagree with me and feel an asterix in the record books should do the job, and that no suspensions or bans are necessary. In short, read the report and call it a day. One of those people is Scott Miller of CBSportsline.com. He writes: "Indications are, there will be no striking of Clemens' seven Cy Young Awards or Bonds' seven MVPs from the record books, nor should there be. Illuminating as it is, the Mitchell Report remains only one part of a labyrinth that will entrap the game for decades, and it is both impractical and impossible to officially decide which parts of the record book to keep and which to eliminate."
First of all, you don't not do something—in this case, clean up baseball's record books—because it's difficult and not pleasent. You do it anyway, because it is worth it to do so.
And anyway, wasn't it just last week that the IOC stripped Marion Jones of her gold medals and will eventually give the medals to the person who came in second? And why? Because the person who trained their whole life and went to the Olympics to compete fairly deserves the medals.
ESPN.com writes: "Many prominent voters -- including several ESPN writers -- have pronounced themselves uncomfortable with playing detective and trying to guess which players were clean or dirty. So rather than pick and choose based on gut instinct or innuendo, they simply vote based on the numbers. 'The bottom line is that we really don't know who cheated or who didn't cheat, so I have no choice but to put everyone on the same playing field,' said Bob Nightengale of USA Today."
That is a cop out. You don't throw your hands up in the air just because you can't be 100% sure on each and every person who cheated. To not punish the people who you know committed a crime because you're not sure about others, absolves the people you do know about. It's amnesty for criminals and cheaters.
One fan—who seems to be in the majority—wrote on the Los Angeles Times' Web site, "I could care less about fair play as long as these overpaid athletes entertain me."
This seems so misguided as to not be worthy of a response, but since many people feel this way, I'll respond.
Baseball isn't pro wrestling. The majority of the people playing the game play it honestly and diligently and work very hard to do so. The game has a history, a passion, and all of that is worthy of protection. It is not American Idol or the WWF. It is not disposable entertainment. It's competition. And another point is, if you passively accept steroid-enhanced baseball players with a shrug and with no punishment, what does that tell the high school kids playing baseball with an eye to making the big leagues?
I'll use Senator Mitchell's words: "The minority of players who used such substances were wrong. They violated federal law and baseball policy, and they distorted the fairness of competition by trying to gain an unfair advantage over the majority of players who followed the law and the rules."
This blog takes no joy in saying this. But a zero-tolerance policy is the only way to make the game clean again. That mean, no Hall of Fame for cheaters, an expunging of the records of known cheaters, and suspensions/bans for players who cheated and are still playing the game. To do anything less is to accept an unfair situation in a game of fair competition.
John Donovan writes in Sports Illustrated: "The lesson here should be that those who cheat by breaking the law pay the price, not that they skate just because we want to get this whole thing over with." Exactly. Unless we truly want baseball to become Professional Wrestling—where records mean nothing, and achievement is XFL-type comedy—there has to be accountability for cheating.
Donovan continues: You can't catch all the crooks. And even some of those you catch slip away sometimes. But Selig has to go after those he can go after and suspend them. Go through the appeals. Take on Don Fehr and the union. Fight the good fight. It's not something that Selig wants to do. It's not something anyone wants to do. It's going to drag out this already interminable story even further."
In the end, this whole process is ugly. It's ugly and nasty and no one wants to do it. But we have to. We owe it to all the players who played fairly. We owe it to them to get this right.