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Friday, November 16, 2007
Steroids, Baseball, and Truth and Reconciliation

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by Jerry Crasnick at ESPN for a piece on the ever-looming release of the Mitchell Commission Report, what it might prompt MLB and/or individual teams to do to any players named in the report, and the effect that might have on this winter's free-agent market. The story is not up yet, but I will link to it when it is.

During the interview, Crasnick asked whether Commissioner Bud Selig might decide to do nothing in response to the Report--perhaps in a show of mercy and amnesty or perhaps in recognition of the difficulties of punishing any players under MLB rules, under the collective bargaining agreement, and under the terms of individual player contracts. Mike previously offered his thoughts on some of these issues.

My first thought was that if Selig did nothing, he would be eviscerated for waging a phony investigation, for turning Mitchell loose to make MLB look like it was doing something about steroids, giving Selig a PR boost, when in reality it was a meaningless exercise. Alternatively, Selig would be eviscerated for starting an investigation to do nothing more than embarrass individual players named in the Report. But I think this may have been too hasty a view.

Instead, perhaps we can think of the Mitchell Commission as baseball's version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is a particular type of legal/political process that investigates, takes evidence, and attempts to reveal the facts and story about past and historical events in a society, but not with an eye towards either punishing wrongdoers or compensating victims. Rather it is for the purpose of discovering historical "truth," setting the historical record straight, and "reconciling" the society to its past as it moves forward. The most famous and successful of these was the Commission established in South Africa to investigate Apartheid. Closer to home was the 2005 Commission that investigated the Greensboro Massacre, the 1979 racially charged killing of five union protesters by a group of Klansmen (while the police did nothing to intervene) in Greensboro, N.C.

Perhaps the Mitchell Report will serve the same function, even if no players are in any way sanctioned. It will set straight the historical record about baseball from 1994 until 2005 by providing evidence and revealing the "truth" as to who was doing what with respect to performance-enhancing drugs. This record enables us to evaluate this era and decide what we should make of the records and accomplishments of the players and teams. This can affect how historians and fans think and write about the game and the players. It affects how writers place players of the era in historical discussions of all-time best players and teams. Perhaps it affects how individual Hall-of-Fame voters cast their ballots. It may have the effect of placing an unofficial asterisk by some records, so long as it is not official. If the Commission gives us that, even if no one is punished, maybe it will not have been a meaningless exercise.


finished crasnick's license to deal about a month ago. superb writer and a pretty good book.

also, i completely agree with your analysis on the Mitchell Report.

Blogger Adam W -- 11/19/2007 9:26 AM  

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