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Baseball: Will the steroid report change anything?

“All that work and all that anticipation ... for this?” said Shaun Powell in Newsday. Former Sen. George Mitchell last week unveiled his much-ballyhooed report on the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, but it “taught us nothing we didn’t already know.’’ Commissioner Bud Selig authorized the study 20 months ago, long after hitting records began mysteriously falling to players so extravagantly muscular that they looked like comic-book characters. In Mitchell’s 400-page report, based almost entirely on the testimony of two shady former trainers who squealed to avoid prosecution, we’re told that players juiced themselves with steroids and human growth hormone “while owners essentially looked the other way.” Nothing new there. Yes, 86 players from the past two decades were named as cheaters, including a handful of stars: Barry Bonds (no surprise there), Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and Andy Pettitte. But most of the players named were either retired or are marginal players, and even Mitchell had to concede that he had no real idea as to the extent of drug-cheating in the sport. At least now we can officially say farewell to “the romantic and ridiculous notion of professional baseball as a sweet American pastime,” played by noble and heroic men.

Frankly, that notion died years ago, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. Baseball—along with all professional sports—has evolved into a billion-dollar industry in which freakishly sized gladiators battle for the entertainment of jaded fans paying $100 for a seat. “We, the paying customers, don’t want normal-size athletes with normal abilities. We want to see supermen and superwomen performing super feats.” Remember the “electric’’ 1998 home run battle between the massive Mark McGwire and the equally Herculean Sammy Sosa? said Rob Manker in the Chicago Tribune. Fans and sportswriters suspected even then that something was funny. “But we didn’t ask, and they didn’t tell.”

The owners still aren’t interested in the truth, said Ross Newhan in the Los Angeles Times. Recently, owners signed players such as Jose Guillen, Eric Gagne, and Paul Lo Duca to multimillion-dollar contracts, despite being named in the report as users of steroids or human growth hormone. So much for the old adage that cheaters never prosper. Indeed, baseball hauled in $6 billion in revenues in 2007, and has shattered attendance records for three consecutive seasons.

The drug abusers may not pay the price now, said Thomas Boswell in The Washington Post, but they won’t necessarily escape without consequences. When taken in the mega-doses that many players have consumed, the Mitchell Report notes, steroids and HGH may cause liver and heart damage, prostate and other cancers, arthritis, and episodes of mania and rage. “Overthe next few decades, we will be left to wonder how many players’ lives, even their sanity, will be damaged or destroyed.”

Despite that warning, said Justin Berton in the San Francisco Chronicle, the report probably won’t deter “the very group Mitchell hoped it would reach most”—namely, young athletes. About 3 million people have used steroids to grow muscles for their sports, according to the Mayo Clinic, many of them high school and college athletes. That’s hardly surprising, given role models like Roger Clemens. The former Yankee pitcher started taking steroids and HGH in his mid-30s, when his career began tanking. Suddenly, he recovered his fastball and his endurance; over the next decade, a reborn Clemens won four Cy Young awards and went on to sign free agency contracts worth $100 million. Try telling high school and college players that when he decided to give Mother Nature a little boost, Clemens made a mistake.

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