Fans deserve some blame for funding steroid era
Posted: Tuesday December 18, 2007 3:03PM; Updated: Tuesday December 18, 2007 4:01PM
Welcome to the post-Mitchell Report recrimination festival already in progress. But check your stones at the door. Your house is constructed of glass.
I'm mean you, the fan.
Since Sen. Mitchell's little white paper dropped last Thursday, there's been a landslide of indignant blame directed at Major League owners, the commissioner, players and their lovely union for allowing a culture of chemically-enhanced cheaters to thrive unchecked. A finger can also be pointed at those who funded the entire fiasco: fans.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs has been an open secret for, what? A decade at least. Yet MLB attendance has hovered around 70 million per season since 1998, the year that little bottle of Andro was spotted in Mr. McGwire's locker. Posteriors in the seats reached a record 79,502,524 in 2007. Now a fair portion of those fans want the tainted players who attracted and thrilled those crowds to be punished, stricken from the books and barred from the Hall of Fame.
I'm not excusing anyone or anything here, but the unfortunate bottom line is that when great wealth and fame is to be had, people will break rules to acquire and hang on to them. The principle holds in any competitive human endeavor. (Some folks feel compelled to cheat at solitaire.) We want our games to be pure, but there is often little money in virtue. The owners and players were reaping great rewards with the status quo and whistleblowers could count on the shaft. Does anyone think Kirk Radomski, Brian McNamee, Larry Bigbie and Chad Allen would have sung like William Hung if not for the threat of an all-expenses paid stretch in the pokey? How welcome do you think they are now among their old compadres?
I'd like to believe that stiffer penalties or even much less cheating would have occurred sooner if enough fans had been disgusted enough to voice their displeasure by using their feet and wallets en masse. Potbelly pigs will captain nuclear submarines before that happens.
Those of you who still love baseball enough to pay through the hooter for seats, parking, food, licensed merchandise, cable fees, and must-buy-tickets-to-this-if-you-want-tickets-to-that packages, and sit cross-eyed as games run late to accommodate the TV dollar, have made MLB an estimated $5.7 billion enterprise this year. It now ranks with the almighty NFL ($6.3 billion), which has largely gotten a pass (no pun intended) on your outrage. Shawne Merriman's suspension came and went, but Fernando Vina will be in the public stocks and taking incoming tomatoes for quite some time.
No matter how unsavory things get in sports, we just can't stop watching. People vowed to boycott baseball after the '94 strike, and that lasted about four minutes, as do similar threats whenever there's a labor stoppage in a sport. Even a freak show like Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron is compelling. The Mets just jacked ticket prices about 20 percent in the wake of their epic stretch collapse because they know damn well that fans will keep digging in their pockets until their fingers locate the last moist penny that fell into their shoe. It's the old "bad publicity is better than no publicity at all" thing. So we've reached the point where even the most mediocre middle reliever gets paid $3 million a year.
Hey, I understand the irony of my position as a pointyheaded member of the elite media vulture establishment. We fuel the fire by shoveling the dirt and hype, and your interest keeps navy beans on our tables. The best that can happen is if baseball, and every other sport for that matter, follows the sage suggestion of Sen. Mitchell and focuses its efforts on making the future as drug-free and above board as humanly possible. For now, the hunt for transgressors feels good. It's fun to light the torch, storm the castle and watch the bastards squirm. But it's worth noting that they did what they did when your love, and dollars, came to town.