Commentary: Pitching In
As the Mitchell Report indicates, baseball is also facing its own credibility issues. Well, baseball and racing are not alone.
A track and field gold medalist having to relinquish medals; a professional basketball referee caught up in a gambling scandal. Well, basketball, track and field, baseball, and racing are not alone.
Tennis matches with funny betting patterns; an ongoing saga regarding a winner of the Tour de France. Well, cycling, tennis, basketball, track and field, baseball, and racing are not alone.
You get the picture.
Baseball was painfully slow to react to allegations that some players were using steroids. Larry Starr, trainer for the Cincinnati Reds and Florida Marlins for 29 years, told Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News he first suspected a player of taking steroids in 1984. In addition, Starr has notes from a meeting in 1988 in which baseball trainers warned the league’s commissioner, baseball officials, and members of the players’ union about the problem, and requested testing be put in place. Nothing was done.
Starr told the writer he remembers players leaving the clubhouse to watch sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa take batting practice because, “they all knew what they were doing and wanted to see the results.”
As Starr pointed out in the Dec. 14 article, there were three, 50-home run seasons in baseball from 1963-94, and since that time there have been 23.
Racing has also been slow to react, with calls for uniform medication testing stretching back more than 20 years. But, at a time when baseball is in its “Steroid Era,” as it is being called, racing jurisdictions and sale companies are beginning to enact steroid policies, a positive turn of events for racing.
Baseball fans don’t seem as upset by the report from former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as they were in 1994 when a players’ strike caused the sport to be the first to ever have to cancel its post-season because of a labor dispute.
Though the report was just issued, baseball fans have known players were using steroids and growth hormones, yet in 2007 baseball set an attendance record for the fourth consecutive year and enjoyed revenue of more than $6 billion.
Sure, fans are disturbed that many of their favorite players, big names such as Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, have been implicated, but by spring training, odds are they will be back buying tickets, questioning managerial decisions, and wondering how long their team will remain in the pennant race.
The only lingering thought in the minds of baseball fans will be the knowledge that there are surely players not named in the report that have also been injecting themselves with steroids.
Imagine if horse racing issued a similar report and named horses, including champions and classic winners, that raced on illegal substances. Would fans still bet on horse racing?
Unlike baseball, which relies on attendance and its television contract to make money, racing relies on handle. And there’s another big difference. Athletes in every sport except horse racing make the conscious decision to take an illegal substance. A horse is injected when a decision is made by a human.
No one should be surprised that there are cheaters in every sport. In fact, we should be surprised there aren’t more than there are. In every sport, including horse racing, there are some people looking for an edge. It may be something as simple—and legal—as adding blinkers or a tongue tie, or something not so simple—and illegal—like carrying a buzzer or using illegal medications.
Racing should learn from baseball’s inaction and do all it can to protect the integrity of the sport. The count is full. Who calls the next pitch?
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