So the Mitchell Report has arrived, crushing our heroes and our illusory beliefs about baseball. Everything has been dispelled in 409 pages.
People seem to be surprised and horrified by what they've learned, but the fact that we had any illusions left at all says more about us than it does about baseball.
For almost a decade now, we've all known that the game was being played with chemical help.
The truth is that we haven't really cared.
Sure, many of us have been critical of Barry Bonds, taking a superior tone about his home run record and overwhelmingly supporting the asterisk on his record-breaking ball.
But our disdain has always been more about Bonds' acerbic attitude than his steroid-improved slugging.
If this isn't the case, then why do none of us care about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa breaking Roger Maris' record? Why do we only care about Bonds trumping Hank Aaron?
We care about Bonds because we don't like him—because Bonds has always been more villain than hero.
Which brings me back to the Mitchell report.
We aren't upset because steroids have tainted our game. We aren't even upset that steroids are in our game. We’ve tacitly agreed with their presence for years.
We're upset because our heroes have been revealed as cheats and liars, and we can't pretend anymore.
We can't rationalize steroid use as something that only the bad boys of baseball have done. It was everywhere, and we now have to face the fact that we knew it all along.
If we'd really cared about steroids themselves, we—the fans—would have done something a long time ago.
We would have taught our sons that the game of baseball is beautiful when it's played on a small scale, with suicide squeezes and bunting and stolen bases and hitting for average (you know—the way the Japanese won the World Baseball Classic).
We’d have stayed home instead of flocking back to the parks when the home runs started flying.
We’d have booed every player who suddenly bulked up, rather than just Bonds and Jose Canseco and the few other guys we love to hate.
We’d have made steroid use unattractive and unlucrative for everyone involved.
But we haven’t done any of those things—and now we, the fans, are reaping what we’ve sown.
So does steroid use really matter?
Maybe not. After all, we seem to have gotten exactly what we wanted.
We’ve gotten home runs and powerful pitching. We’ve gotten heroes and villains performing superhuman feats.
We’ve gripped the illusion tight and reveled in its excitement.
Would we really want it any other way?
I don't think so.
We made the world in which these players felt the need to alter their bodies, and I'm not convinced that it matters that they did. It was the price for their place in baseball’s pantheon, and most of us, if not all of us, would have done the same thing if we’d had enough skill to make the Show.
If drugs were our ticket in, we’d have paid the fare.
All sports—football, soccer, hockey, bike racing, basketball, every track and field event—are full of juicers. It's the nature of modern athletics. There's too much money, too much demand for greatness, and too much demand from fans for it to be any other way.
Baseball is the scapegoat of the moment, and in the long run, the Mitchell report will make no difference. The players and managers and team doctors will simply find substances that aren't banned, or they'll find more clever ways to hide the same old drugs.
And the most likely result will be more danger to teenagers—not less.
After all, the best way to hide steroid use is to start it before you’re in the spotlight. If you’re always big, no one will suspect you of bulking up.
Now THAT'S dangerous.
All the Mitchell report does is replace one illusion with another. We lose our illusion of legend and entertainment, and we gain an illusion of intervention and control.
I'll take the former over the latter any day—but then I've also been preaching a return to skilled baseball since the Steroid Era began.
Anybody with me?