There is, however we might like to pretend there isn't, a conflict of interest regarding MLB.com and the Commissioner's Office. Sure, they run that little disclaimer on every page. But you're not going to see -- or at least I've never seen -- anything remotely critical of the Commissioner on that website.
Which means we have to cast a particularly skeptical eye on MLB.com's coverage of all things Seligian. For example, Richard Justice's recent column about the Mitchell Report and the players' current attitude toward drug-testing:
Selig has been unafraid of the fallout of exposing users as baseball has wrestled with performance-enhancing substances. It was Selig's decision to hire George Mitchell to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and then to offer advice on how to proceed.
Mitchell's 409-page report named 89 players, including Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. As Selig said earlier this month, "I know a lot of people thought the Mitchell Report was a bad idea. I just thought it was an important step to take, and I think I've been proven correct."
Wednesday, Craig Calcaterra argued, with great skill and conviction, that the Mitchell Report was useless. As usual, I'm right there with Craig. Mostly. I do think the Mitchell Report did something that might have been useful (and as I'm typing these words, I'm remembering that I've made this argument before).
It might be useful to stigmatize drug use, and part of that process might be embarrassing individual players. And perhaps it's impossible to embarrass a few players without embarrassing a few who don't really deserve it. Justice is neither blind nor perfect. Alas.
Still, it's hard not to snicker when Bud Selig congratulates himself for a producing something so obviously biased and incomplete. You'd like to think that when you're Bud Selig's age (97), you'll have finally acquired great measures of wisdom and humility. Oh well, there's still time for him.
Later, Justice explains the difference between now and, say, a decade ago:
It's the players. Union leadership, especially executive director Michael Weiner, doesn't operate in a vacuum. They are the representatives of rank-and-file players. In the end, that's all that matters.
Some players will still attempt to find a competitive advantage, but they are not a reflection of how most players behave. As one player told me after a player tested positive, "The part that infuriates me is that a few guys have the ability to make us all look bad."
Amid the sound and fury that will follow reports of Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and others being connected (again, in some cases) to banned substances, baseball will investigate, and then baseball will almost certainly punish the involved players. Baseball will not look the other way.
I do want to point out that while the union technically represents the rank-and-file players, in practice it's never really worked that way. Not for decades. In practice, the union has fundamentally represented the veterans who filled the leadership roles. The battles have never been about allowing 25-year-old players to make a million dollars a year; they've largely been about allowing 35-year-old players to make $15 million a year. Typically, when rank-and-file players have broken ranks, they've been beaten back into line by the veterans. You're supposed to keep your mouth shut, do exactly as you're told, and if you hang around for five or six years it'll be your turn.
Of course, most major-league players don't actually hang around for five or six years.
I don't believe the rank-and-file forced the issue. I believe that Congress and, to a lesser degree, the Baseball Writers Association of America, made such a stink that the owners and the players had to do something. When the testing became stringent enough, a fair percentage of prospective drug cheaters just didn't want to hassle with it, or risk getting busted. And this had a cascading effect. When half the players are dabbling (or more) in drugs, it's incredibly difficult to effect any change. Just ask Rick Helling.
But eventually there was a tipping point. You don't need to convince 100 percent of the players that violating the drug policy is too big a hassle or not worth the risk; you just need to convince 51 percent of them, or 63 percent, or maybe a few more. Once you hit that percentage, you've changed the culture to the point that the great majority of players won't violate the drug policy, if only because their peers aren't violating the drug policy. Keep your mouth shut, do as you're told, and wait your turn.
Some years ago I saw a study ... One hundred Olympic-level athletes were asked if they would take a pill that would a) guarantee them a gold medal, but b) shave five years from their lifespan.
Ninety-eight of them said they would.
This suggests that high-level athletes are incredibly competitive and will do just about anything to win.
But it's more complicated than that. Most of those Olympians were probably in their 20s, and expect to live into (at least) their 80s. Long-term thinking is antithetical to human nature. Hell, I would give up five years of my life for a Pulitzer Prize, or a bestselling book. I can't conceptualize the year 2053.
A more relevant question for our purposes would something like this: "Would you take a pill that would guarantee a gold medal, but with a 50-percent chance that three months later, you'll be publicly humiliated, suspended from your sport, and forced to return your medal?"
Now I'll bet the number of yesses would be significantly fewer than 98. It's not nearly so difficult to think three months ahead.
This is what baseball has become. Sure, you can cheat. But there's a reasonable chance, unless you're super-duper careful (and maybe even then), that you'll be publicly humiliated and suspended (without pay!). We know that some players will still say yes. But my guess is that most of them won't; that the percentage who will say yes is a lot lower now than it was 10, 15 years ago before anybody was embarrassed.
What Craig would argue, I think -- and again, I'm right there with him -- is that embarrassing those named in the Mitchell Report wasn't neither helpful nor fair. That the Mitchell Report would have been far more useful, had it said something substantive about the culture of drug use, instead of picking up a stray fact about a particular player here and there.
The Mitchell Report was junk, and everyone involved in putting it together should be embarrassed. I'm just not convinced it wasn't a necessary step toward giving the Rick Hellings of the world a fighting chance, because the Mitchell Report made it very clear that a significant number of players were using illegal drugs and associating with shady characters. And the sport is better off without those things.