It's now almost a month since the Mitchell Report came out. Does anyone really care?
On one level, of course. Roger Clemens certainly cares. And, now that he's been sued, Brian McNamee cares. George Mitchell cares, and Bud Selig sure looks like he cares.
But, do the fans really care? Again, I think most fans are enjoying, either secretly or openly, the gossip-like nature of the report. Players they hated who are on the list are hated even more. After all, it's fun to see villains being tagged with doing even more bad things. And, I think most baseball fans have some concern that the game clean itself up and do what it can to prevent future players from having unnatural advantages.
But, I think how much fans care really stops there. If baseball stops its attack on performance enhancing drugs with the Mitchell Report, fans will still go to games, root for their team, and form allegiances for their players. I don't think anyone really cares, in the sense of voting with their pocketbook and attendance patterns, what the players are doing in their spare time to get to the level we enjoy watching.
After all, isn't that the lesson of the last decade plus? Home runs were up, scoring was through the roof, records were being shattered, rumors of steroid use abounded, and yet the game thrived. Teams brought in record revenue, salaries skyrocketed, attendance grew - everyone was happy. Sure, people complained publicly about the steroid possibilities, but no one, particularly none of the fans, acted on it. No one, especially the fans, really cared enough to have it affect their behavior.
Bringing it closer to home, isn't this the lesson of the 1993 Phillies? We all knew Darren Daulton grew suspiciously big in the early 90s. We all heard Lenny Dykstra talk about his "special vitamins." We all saw Pete Incaviglia. But we loved the team nonetheless. We lived by their ups and downs, and our hearts were broken by Joe Carter. We just didn't care, when it came down to attendance and spending and devoting our time, that important members of this team were probably using a little chemical extra to win games. We knew something was fishy, but we were hooked nonetheless. Does the fact that we now have a report verifying some of our suspicions change that?
Frank Fitzpatrick had some details about this turning-a-blind-eye in a column last month about his being the beat reporter for the team that year. He writes of his reason for not inquiring further into rumors of steroids: "I guess it was all so much fun that, as it was for most everyone else in Philadelphia, it was easier not to believe it. The Phillies were on an amazing journey, and I liked my front-row seat." The rest of the article is illuminating. Fans fell into line - this was fun, who cared why?
It's nice to hear people talk about cleaning up the sport -- for the good of competition, for the good of the players, for the good of the children. But other than for the players actually affected and for message-board gossip hounds, it really just doesn't matter. We'll still attend games, still devote our time, and still get hooked on the sport and team we love.
So, a month after the Mitchell Report, can we really give it anything other than a loud "So What?"