Sunday, December 16, 2007

Random Thoughts on the Mitchell Report

So, the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball was released last week, and you know what? I don't really give a shit. Seems to me that enough righteous indignation has been wasted on the so-called menace of steroids. I won't even link to the worst offenders; everyone knows how to use Google.

My own thoughts are pretty well summed up by Lew Rockwell:

Murray Rothbard used to say that anyone officially beloved is evil. George Mitchell is certainly in that category. An ex-prosecutor and errand boy for the establishment, ex-Senator Mitchell made heavy use of the state in his rotten report.

Since I know that much of the federal propaganda against other illegal substances is a lie, I do not assume they are telling the truth about steroids. If adult players want to take "performing-enhancing substances," that is their business, and none of the government's.

It can also be baseball's business, but then it is up to MLB to enforce its rules.

In fact, MLB pretty much ignored steroids, which was probably the correct move, until the Christian President made them part of his totalitarian Drug War. I'll never forget Sanctimonious George condemning the immorality of steroids as he was murdering hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq.
Agreed. People get so emotional over the issue of steroids, yet in every discussion I have about this (including one last night), I get the same non-arguments and flimsy contentions. Just to address a few:

1. "Steroids are illegal."
So? That's a statement of fact, to be sure, but not an argument. I'd like to know the following:

a) Why should it be up to MLB to serve as proxy for the state's rotten war on drugs?
b) Which other criminal offenses should MLB feel the need to police?

The problem with the legality argument is that it's circular, in my mind. The prohibitionist crowd has yet to make a convincing argument for banning any substance, let alone steroids, so citing illegality is arguing from a weakened position. First establish that steroids should be illegal, then argue that it logically follows that MLB should prohibit them. Otherwise, you're arguing a tautology: steroids are bad because they're illegal. And steroids are illegal because they're bad.

LSD is also illegal but researchers are exploring its potential to treat a variety of mental disorders. Just because something is illegal doesn't make it ipso facto without medicinal, therapeutic or other value.

2. "Steroid-enhanced performances distort baseball's unique statistical record."
This is perhaps the most fatuous of all the anti-steroid complaints. I've addressed this issue before but it is worth revisiting. Statistics are numerical representations of the historical record, but they are supposed to serve us, not the other way around. As Joe Sheehan has said: "baseball statistics are not numbers generated for their own sake." Yet too many baseball fans treat them as such. Are we to be slaves to the numbers, or will we endeavor to understand their meaning?

To wit: Roger Maris hit more homers in a season than Babe Ruth ever did - but nobody in his right mind argues that Maris was the better hitter. In the last 20 years, Pat Hentgen and Mark Davis each won Cy Young Awards, yet Curt Schilling and Roy Oswalt haven't. Warren Spahn's career high in strikeouts was 191 - a figure surpassed by Mark Langston seven times! Does anyone believe that Mark Langston was more dominant than Warren Spahn?

The point is that context is everything. You have to understand which value judgments the statistical record is making (if any), and when it's just a collection of numbers that make no statement at all.

3. Ballplayers are role models! What kind of message do they send to kids by taking steroids???
Another pointless debate. On a side note, why are athletes held to a higher standard with these kinds of issues? Few people wring their hands when musicians or actors get busted for drugs, yet are they not "role models" to the band geeks and drama weenies of the world?

Anyway, it doesn't matter. This culture's odd conceit that prohibition is the best way to protect children from certain substances causes far more problems than it solves. All that is achieved with prohibition is to create the illusion that some substances are "good" and some are "bad" - and that appetites can therefore be controlled through force alone. The reality is that there are pros and cons with ingesting all kinds of things but prohibition prevents us from confronting these issues honestly. It's no different with steroids. So what kind of message do we send to kids by refusing to acknowledge shades of gray?

4. It's cheating!
Fair enough, and so long as MLB rules say so, I'm not arguing that steroid use is anything otherwise. I just can't bring myself to care that much. To me, this is little different from corking bats, scuffing balls, or stealing signals; it's a private matter to be adjudicated by MLB and its players. Congressional hearings, Mitchell Reports,'s all so much bullshit. Cheating ballplayers should be fined and/or suspended, and then everybody move on. Spare me the goddamn moral outrage.

5. Players taking steroids jeopardize everyone by taking jobs from those unwilling to ingest the stuff.
This is the only serious argument that carries any real weight. Truly, it matters on the margins only, where superstars looking for an edge or fringe/utility players seeking a roster spot can benefit. Nonetheless, a "clean" player could get squeezed out by a steroid user of otherwise comparable talents. Doesn't seem fair to ask a player to risk his health in order to win playing time, so I'll cede that one.

In the past few years, we've seen alleged steroid users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens post historical seasons at advanced ages. Here's what I'd like to know: assuming steroids to be the catalyst for these performances, why discourage this? As fans, shouldn't we want more and healthier seasons, and greater performances, from elite athletes?

IF steroids are as powerful as advertised, and IF the health risks can be managed or minimized under a doctor's supervision, and IF the overall benefits can be demonstrated to outweigh the negatives...why not explore the possibilities?