I would like to take responsibility for my actions, or in-actions, that contributed to the events that made necessary the report made today by former Senator George Mitchell. His report detailing a history (not the history) of performance enhancing drug abuse in Major League Baseball sites many culpable parties, from Major League Baseball itself, to the players who took the drugs, to the union that protected them, to the club owners and executives. However, he left out one party that does bear a share in the blame, and that is me. As a baseball fan I turned a blind eye to the ever increasing physiques and home run distances for too long. I was caught up in the excitement and grandeur of the summer of ’98, the summer that brought baseball back from the brink, four years after the tragic strike. As I watched Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa one-up each other night after night with their towering drives and inhuman strength I ignored, consciously, the signs that pointed to something being amiss. I even gave McGwire a pass when a bottle of andro was found in his locker. It wasn’t a banned substance, after all. Besides, this was just too much fun.
Even several years later when more players were hitting more home runs, I had my suspicions, but didn’t take my own intuition seriously. I chalked up the power surge to the increased focus on weight training (which for most of its history baseball had largely ignored), improved sports medicine, creatine and the like, new, smaller ball parks and a strikezone that favored the batter. Even in Barry Bonds’ first years in ginormity, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was said to be an extremely disciplined and hard worker. He could put on that much muscle, couldn’t he? Besides, innocent until proven guilty.
And so I continued to show my support for Major League Baseball. I gave it my money, through purchasing tickets and apparel, I gave it my time by watching ESPN and playing fantasy baseball, I gave it my heart by cheering like a kid for my Angels in the 2002 World Series (two players from that team were named in the report).
Would anything really have changed if I had acted differently? No, it wouldn’t have. But what if fans as a group had acted differently? What if we had stayed away like after the strike year? Would that have turned the pressure up on the commissioner, the GM’s and the union to act faster? Maybe, maybe not.
Of the parties involved, the fans shoulder by far the least amount of responsibility, but that doesn’t make us babes in the woods. We can react with shock and horror over the names on the list–which are just a fraction of the number of abusers–but we all knew, or at least had a pretty good idea, of who was on the juice.
Its a sad day for baseball, but hopefully this will be a stake in the ground from which we can go forward. Jeff Kent said, “Major League Baseball is trying to investigate the past so they can fix the future.” As a fan, I implore baseball to finally take this problem seriously, to right the wrongs it can realistically fix (think more player suspensions than record book editing), implement an independent and exhaustive testing regimen, and get the game back to what it was when I was a kid. When I didn’t wonder with every home run hit, “I wonder what he’s on?”