The Mitchell Report The Steroid Era: Have baseball and the player’s union finally jumped the shark?
Did America just witness the end of the baseball steroid era, or was that simply Moe, Larry, and Curly sucker-punching each other on national television?
First, the eminently respected George Mitchell summarized an exhaustive report on the baseball steroid pandemic of recent years, then he suddenly jumped the shark by proclaiming we all need to get this behind us and therefore no players should be punished. That sounds more like wishful hoping, if not cheerleading for the game, so just what IS George thinking?
Next, Commissioner Selig appeared and acknowledged how awful the steroid ordeal has been, after he first practically canonized George Mitchell with oceans of praise. Then, when asked about his own culpability as addressed in the Mitchell Report, Selig hinted that’s the only part the eminent Mitchell got wrong. What a coincidence. What a joke.
Third, union chief Donald Fehr grabbed the microphones and he praised the noble fights the union has waged all these drug-infested years in the name of fairness, then reminded both Selig and Mitchell there is a fully negotiated collective bargaining agreement in place between ownership and the players while clearly conveying his real point, summarized something like: “I’ll review and consider the Mitchell Report suggestions, but we’re not renegotiating our union contract with the major leagues. Period” In short, he hints, they can both go shove it.
By being so eager to implement everything the Mitchell Report suggests without having studied all of it by the time of his press conference, Commissioner Selig is tipping his hand, clearly patronizing Mitchell all while apparently using his Report to put pressure on the union. But Mitchell suggests no punishment, yet Selig says he’ll punish everyone who deserves it. Good luck. The Mitchell report will be denounced as back-alley hearsay, and Selig’s actions will be attacked as fundamentally unfair—something akin to a violation of “private sector due process.”
So Selig selected the parts of the Report that he likes—the players took steroids in droves and now need to be tested more and more often—while forgetting the other parts, namely, that the commissioner shares the blame, and the players should not be punished.
However, the most culpable, in my view, may be the players’ union itself. Almost all the rank and file players did not want steroids, and they largely resented risking their health to compete with steroid monsters just to keep their jobs. They were victims in all this, for when the first ten guys went on steroids, the bar was set higher and more jumped on, then the higher bar applied to more players, and eventually perhaps as much as half the league—to believe Jose Canseco—was on the juice, many just for defensive reasons. Did the baseball union actually lobby against the health and welfare of its members all this time? If so, why? What union would do that?
Is baseball now jockeying to exploit the Mitchell Report to get the upper hand over the union? Did it use Mitchell himself for that purpose? Fehr’s consternation may be neither right nor appropriate, but so far his union has clearly out-maneuvered baseball. When Commissioner Selig tries to punish these players, maybe he should take the juice, too—it will be a long uphill road and a hard-fought battle.
Meanwhile, what do we do about the baseball record books and the Hall of Fame? History will place an asterisk on the steroid era whether or not the major leagues and the union agree. Maybe baseball should preempt history by placing its own asterisk first: give one respectively to Hank Aaron and Roger Maris, designating them as “the last home run record holders in the pre-steroid era.” If it doesn’t, they—and much of baseball posterity—could be the odd-men-out, possibly forever.
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Eldon L. Ham is an adjunct professor of Sports, Law & Society at Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has been a practicing sports attorney, and is often quoted on sports issues in such venues as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Business Week, Chicago Sun-Times, and elsewhere. He has published articles in the Seton Hall Sports Law Journal, Marquette Sports Law Review, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, and the Street & Smith Sports Business Journal.
He has published three sports related books. The latest, Larceny & Old Leather, examines the mischievous history of baseball cheating from spitballs and stealing signs to gambling and steroids.
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