Major League Baseball tried to clean house yesterday, but no matter how hard George Mitchell sweeps, there is no way he will ever catch all the dust bunnies.
Mitchell, the lead investigator assigned to purge baseball of the stain of steroids, released his much-awaited report. It explains why Roger Clemens doesn't act his age. And, considering Gregg Zaun can't get the ball to second base without first calling FedEx, he should demand a refund.
YOU THINK SO?
Mitchell says that for "more than a decade, there has been widespread anabolic steroid use." Golly. No kidding. Tomorrow the sun will come up -- but we don't need an investigation to tell us that, either. It was 15 years ago when a sports writer covering spring training could go to a Gold's Gym -- or a dozen other places like it -- and run into as many players as he would in the clubhouse. I don't think they were all there for the carrot juice.
What Mitchell's report does is substantiate what many people knew, or at least suspected, but couldn't prove.
Mitchell's efforts are not without substance and good intentions, but much of this report is a bit like flogging a dead horse. He says his ultimate goal isn't to pillory players for their past indiscretions but rather to "bring the era of steroid and human growth hormone use to an end."
Would that be the same "end" we saw to steroid use after the Dubin Inquiry? All the revelations about Marion Jones, or the innuendo surrounding Carl Lewis, haven't stopped those who look at the syringe and see the difference between mediocrity and a gold medal.
Mitchell's report is important because it will help eradicate some of the abuse and it may be the impetus to provide education that will dissuade young players from seeing steroids as a means to an end. But to believe that this is somehow the dawning of a "new age" as Mitchell noted is probably naive and totally without historic foundation.
The use of human growth hormones and steroids isn't so much a baseball problem as it is a society issue. We live in an age of instant gratification, where dinner comes through a takeout window, information is just a computer key away and satisfaction is a wallet full of credit cards. And if athletic glory is only a pill away, there always will be someone willing to take the gamble.
There will always be a Floyd Landis who can't say no, or a Barry Bonds who, like Icarus, must fly ever higher -- even to his own demise.
The most sensational part of the report are the names of players caught in the steroid web. It'll get the biggest headlines. It might also be the most inconsequential part.
Mitchell at least acknowledges this in part when he notes that half the players mentioned are retired and that spending years and millions of dollars to seek disciplinary action would "keep everyone mired in the past."
It's impossible to rewrite history. It's not as simple as putting an asterisk beside Bonds' home run record. To erase every vestige of the effects of steroid use on statistics would mean purging the past 15 years from the record books. Everything. And, that is not happening.
There will be idealists who say Clemens should be required to repay millions that he earned unfairly; that players who used steroids cheated others who didn't out of jobs. A lot of things aren't fair. It's not fair when someone you love dies at 35 but the Robert Picktons of the world live into old age. It's not fair that Paris Hilton does dumb stuff and gets richer -- but you get fired. Life isn't fair. There doesn't always have to be a reason. It just is -- deal with it.
People are not dumb. They don't need an asterisk to understand the circumstances that surround Bonds' record and how it should be regarded by right-thinking people.
The argument that steroid abuse will lead to disease and early death has not stopped abuse before. This is where the Mitchell Report has a chance to make an impact. There's always going to be some jockaholic who thinks he is bullet-proof. Most of us start thinking about stuff like immortality only when we can see life's exit door on the horizon.
Hence, the most important part of the report is not the famous names that will be in the headlines today. Nor is it about righting records or about Miguel Tejada or Chuck Knoblauch.
It's about education. Steroids and human growth hormones continue to be perceived by some to have benefits that outweigh any of the dangers, all of the repercussions and drug testing or penalties. Until that perception changes, nothing else will change, either.
It should be about saving the nameless, not shaming the names. Only then will his report, as Mitchell says, "bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball history."