In less than an hour the long-awaited report on PEDs use in baseball, compiled by Major League Baseball under former US Senator George Mitchell's gaze, will be released. It is expected that the report will detail trends, assign blame, and name about 50 or so names. Already the internets are alive with speculation; if like me you have a few baseball boards you like to read, today is the day to read them.
For reasons bordering on masochism, I really like Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, where I can see what the opposition is saying about my Sox. Today's discussion consists of speculating about names, both those rumored and not rumored, speculating about what they did and whether it helped, speculating about the motives of Mitchell (who sits on the board of directors of the Red Sox), and so forth. Basically, the same conversations we were having two years ago.
In some cases, baseball's case is murkier and easier to dismiss: the relation between PEDs and performance is harder to pin down. In other cases, not so: guys who suddenly started hitting home runs will have a harder time explaining their way out of this mess. One common defense we can expect to hear is that PEDs were used to overcome an injury faster than normal. "The game itself is untainted," they'll say. Maybe... but again, if you can't look into the souls of everyone involved, from the Commissioner's office on down to the end of the lowliest bench, you'll never really know.
Baseball the institution is on shakier ground than many sports: while steroids were banned in 1991, the sport had absolutely no testing system whatsoever until 2002. Surprisingly, few players voluntarily turned themselves in for PEDs use. Cycling's complicity, by comparison, looks far more subtle and less appalling. Given this, what exactly should people make of the years 1991-2002? IMHO, just put steroids in the baseline and accept the sport for what it was then. Of course, nobody will do that. Fans won't take the big picture view; they'll want scapegoats, and they'll get them.
From 2002 forward, the story is different. At this point everyone knew the rules and were told, for once, that they mattered. PEDs use after this point needs to be dealt with now, via suspensions that show they're serious, while not going overboard and ignoring Baseball's dirty hands. Say, a month minimum suspension, a year max for extreme cases. Something like that. Really, I don't know, it's not my bailiwick.
Cycling has a small role to play in this mess. We as fans, when done calling out hypocrite journalists for crucifying our sport every July, can offer constructive advice on how to deal with the mess. We can explain the endless knot of trying to decide who really won the 1996 Tour de France. We can help our baseball brethren and sisters (sistren?) come to grips with a situation which has no clear, satisfying answers. We can counsel them on how to move on and get back to loving the sport in the present tense. Cycling itself can offer its experience on how not to combat doping and manage an anti-doping environment. Why should baseball step on landmines when Cycling has detonated practically every one in existence?
Baseball is welcoming its chickens home to roost. When soccer finally does too... now that will be a spectacle.
Update [2007-12-14 1:21:45 by chris]: Tim Kurkjian, a respectable journalist (more or less) just said the following on my teevee in regards to Roger Clemens, about whom there's quite a lot of detailed information about a witness being asked to inject steroids into his ass in Clemens' New York apartment: "Roger Clemens would not have come out and issued a strong denial if everything in there were true." Wow. That, folks, is the best demonstration of how long Baseball has to go in its struggle to deal with PEDs.