We won't be hearing about baseball's Golden Era for a while.
The game sold 80 million tickets in 2007, and generated more than $6 billion in revenues, and yet the difference between gold and Golden can be found in the pages of George Mitchell's tell-some, and in a defiant statement by Baltimore Orioles owner – and, notably, attorney – Peter Angelos, and in the consciences of all those unnamed.
The context has changed.
A generation of baseball fans know only one game, where the ebullient signing of a closer in Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon was, according to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, "a bit of a black eye," by Thursday afternoon. By Monday, calls to Scott Boras Corp. regarding its client, Eric Gagne, were being referred to a Washington D.C. lawyer, Jim Hamilton, who declined to comment.
Gary Bennett's cameo in the Mitchell Report was followed a day later with a regretful admission – "It was a stupid decision," he told the Washington Post – and three days later with a guaranteed contract in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, just to stay in Paul Lo Duca-esque form, should have handwritten the press release on Dodger Stadium stationery.
Andy Pettitte apologized Saturday, then maybe got some long-toss in Sunday morning.
Just bad luck, I guess, that Pettitte plunges HGH into himself twice in his whole life and gets caught. And, worse luck, I suppose, that the same guy who rats out Pettitte (accurately, it would appear) would tell these awful lies about Pettitte's best friend, Roger Clemens. Isn't there some kind of personal-trainer code, where if you don't have something nice to say, go to prison?
Now, Greg Anderson,that's a personal trainer.
We've had four days to digest Mitchell's work, to separate ourselves from the drama of the day and get onto the drama of the era, which leads us – and baseball – to some serious questions. Such as:
What have they done to our game, these chemists and mules and dealers and frauds?
What have they done, these suits and bean counters and shadowy villains?
Who are these people, these PE majors with one foot in the clubhouse and the other in the gutter, and who answered the door when they knocked?
And, when does Mitchell start on his NFL report?
Yes, into Bud Selig's Golden Age come the canceled checks and downcast eyes, like blood backing into a syringe. The game can spin its turnstiles and rake its money, but hardly a day will pass that won't bring reminders of where it's been, and what could come, and who's next.
Many players in the report, preparing for further Congressional curiosity, disciplinary measures brought by Selig and the potential for an over-aggressive DA, have armed themselves with lawyers. It seems to have escaped none that MLB indemnified Mitchell and his investigators for claims that may arise from the report. Though the standard for slandering or libeling public figures is almost unattainably high, Mitchell might have come close on a couple. It remains to be seen if players such as Brian Roberts will even bother to defend themselves, and to what degree.
Selig, Mitchell and MLB players association chief Don Fehr have been called to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next month, in large part to discuss Mitchell's recommendations to baseball – program independence, department of investigations, etc. It is unknown if that hearing will spawn more hearings, more subpoenaed players and trainers, and yet more embarrassment, but, according to a committee source, it is not out of the question.
By now, Selig has inched through the report and his office has started the process of examining the alleged transgressions of each player in it, measuring the drug against the rules of the day and the likelihood that discipline would stand up against appeal. By now, Fehr has his very own copy of the report, and his office is wondering how to slow the momentum building against its membership, and whether to ease the pressure by reopening yet another collective bargaining agreement.
All the while, HGH – and the next Cream, Clear, EPO or HGH – lingers. Dr. Gary Green, MLB's foremost authority on performance-enhancing substances, said last week that a urine test for HGH was "still way in the investigation stage," and Mitchell's report did not list blood testing among its recommendations.
So, the game, its players and its public remain vulnerable – the game to the users who play it, the clean players to the dopers among them and the fans to their trust in it all.
Baseball is fortunate to have full ballparks. The industry is fortunate to be making its money, if only to prop up the bottom quarter of its franchises. Its economic strength will have it endure a full-blown crisis at a time when its greatest players do not retire to parades and induction speeches, but to virtual perp walks and attorneys' statements.
It is sad. And it is not golden. Not at all.