Presumably, George Mitchell stood in line at Kinko’s yesterday, quietly choosing between the black or blue report cover.
Black, for the solemnity of the occasion, the release of what Mitchell learned – or will reveal – of two decades of illicit drug deals, needle marks and deceit in baseball.
Blue, for the gaily indefatigable game that steps over the bodies of its fallen, and whistles into cloudless skies and soaring revenues.
Mitchell, the former Senator, the Boston Red Sox director on leave, the guy who brought peace to Northern Ireland but had a hard time getting a single middle infielder to rat out even one bloated teammate, will release his findings in a Midtown Manhattan ballroom today.
Major League Baseball officials (though apparently not MLB Players’ Assn. officials, who weren’t particularly gracious during the process) were given a couple days to review the report, sigh deeply and run their fingers over their temples before the public received its gawking privileges. A few who'd taken a peek revealed few details, but shrugged in a way that suggested the report wouldn't go down with "The Boys of Summer" as one of the game's inspiring non-fiction reads, but neither would it cast baseball into WWE territory.
After the four years baseball has just endured, since BALCO, Congress and Hammerin' Hank Waxman, grand juries and dancin' Barry Bonds, and the likes of Ken Caminiti, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Grimsley, the thinking went, what's a several dozen more names to a steroid-hardened public? Just, more.
So, only a few more hours to assume your favorite player didn't become so on a regimen of Winstrol, greenies and masking compounds.
A few more hours before we're reminded steroids aren't just fuel to overtake Roger Maris, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, but to get off the island, climb out of A-ball, someday and somehow cash a big-league check, keep pace with the fraud one locker over.
As Mitchell's 21-month investigation – sponsored by baseball's 30 owners, enforced by Bud Selig, fluffed by former Mets clubbie Kirk Radomski – comes to a close, maybe it is important to remind ourselves there will be no single truth. If there are 100 more names to catalog, there also will be 100 man-made decisions, reached separately. These men will be greedy, lazy, afraid, weak, corrupt and insecure.
In that, they'll be together. It will be theirs to bear.
And if they are anywhere near the primes of their careers, they'll also be rich, famous, cheered and pampered, for as long as they can square up a fastball, life, as a ballplayer, will go on. Life, as a fan, will go on. Four years in, the game's steroids crisis has not cost the industry a single ticket.
So, the players will get over any moments of personal gloom. The burden on one's reputation is only as heavy as one's next at-bat with a man at second base, unless, it appears, one happens to be named Bonds.
Remember, too, the villains will not be the old guys in the suits. They do not ride solo here. Jason Giambi alone is responsible for what Jason Giambi injects into the fatty part of his own rear end. Sandy Alderson was no more responsible for Giambi's ass than Selig was.
And if the game's authorities indeed tacitly enabled the steroid army with its self-serving ignorance and gluttony in the Save-Our-Sport late 1990s, how exactly does that explain Mike Cameron popping amphetamines like they were sunflower seeds a decade later? What's the statute of limitations on personal accountability?
Pre- or post-steroids policy, by online prescription or clubhouse connection, not a single player ordered, bought or used performance-enhancing drugs without knowing – positively knowing – he was cheating.
So, we'll get more names to bat around. We might come to understand where steroids came from before select anti-aging clinics became semi-licensed drug dealers. Selig, if we've learned anything from the suspensions of Jay Gibbons and Jose Guillen, will have plenty of new stuff to sort through by opening day, the players' union will run low on appeals forms, and poor Shyam Das, the arbitrator, will have to cancel his spring-break trip to Daytona Beach.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Dr. Don Catlin works to devise a method to trace human growth hormone through urine, most of it on baseball's dime. Turns out, the job is quite a bit larger. On Catlin's Anti-Doping Research Institute's website, the home-page slogan reads, "Fighting to save the soul of sport."
We're pretty sure baseball still has one of those, so it's good to have Catlin out there. The game is still good and fun and worthwhile, even as its all-time home-run leader gets photographed – right, left, front – and fingerprinted.
It is also flawed and low on character, as George Mitchell undoubtedly knew going in, and will tell us more about today. And the report that Selig hoped almost two years ago would close the book on steroids, simply gets us – weary and squeamish – to the next chapter.
- George Mitchell