Why Baseball Looks (and may soon be) Cleaner Than Cycling

Dec 13 2007

Forget the weak dollar, foreign wars, and the past two presidential elections – America is still the greatest country in the world. You know why? The Mitchell Report [PDF; short version here]. No tabloid B.S., no codenames, no rumor, and no innuendo. Just the facts: a man on the inside, receipts, confessions, testimony and positive tests.

The Mitchell Report’s most impressive aspect, however, is its restraint in laying blame. For the past 20 years, professional baseball has arguably been the most drug infested, money gobbling sport in the world. Yet the entire context of today’s revelation focused on correcting the sport for the future, instead of punishing the crimes of the past. During his 30-minute presentation, George Mitchell avoided mentioning the name of even a single player, while one of the best pitchers in baseball history sat squarely in his gun sights. Do you think the UCI would have extended such a courtesy to Lance Armstrong?

This objective approach has an obvious ripple effect. The press, rather than piling unabashedly on (as they’re currently doing in a German country I could name), has mirrored the sober approach, refusing to speculate on names before the advent of the report, unless specific sources could verify them. Even as the report was being presented, ESPN.com offered informed dissent. It will be no surprise to me if the public opinion of baseball remains largely unchanged.

The lesson here that cycling needs to learn is approach to the doping problem is everything. Cycling may be the most tightly-tested sport in the world, but its anti-doping efforts have always smacked of witch-hunt. When Festina broke in 1998, there followed a domino string of assumptions, half-baked accusations, and outright invasions of privacy. Everyone wanted the next big headline, the next trophy. Same with Operacion Puerto, the ’07 Tour, and any allegation you can name involving Lance Armstrong. WADA and the UCI’s assumption that there’s always another guilty man has yielded a very predictable result.

Contrast this with baseball’s approach: when BALCO emerged, and baseball’s long infatuation with chemical enhancement became too obvious to ignore, MLB set up a commission that meticulously and objectively outlined the proliferation of doping in the sport. They moved slowly, without striving to “make an example” of high profile dopers, and without carrying any self-righteous pretensions of justice. Baseball aimed simply to find the extent of the problem, and identify some solutions.

While the lasting results of the Mitchell Report remain to be seen, with people continuing to mortgage their houses for season tickets at Fenway, it’s safe to say that no one sees MLB as a corrupt circus of dopers, no matter how many years behind their testing program is. Conversely, cycling can continue to be the best tested sport in the world, yet always been seen as doped to the gills. And as Rasmussen, Vino, Sinkowitz, Moreni, Kessler, Gonchar, and Kashechkin showed us last year, when this perception that you can, or even have to dope, enters a rider’s mind, it overrides the inescapable logic that if you dope, eventually, you will get caught.

Regardless of what Vino says, cycling can blame only its own anti-dope campaign, and the organizations charged with managing it, for the sport’s dirty reputation. Baseball withstood, and continues to withstand, allegations of drug use by acting carefully and fairly in its investigation and prosecution. While one can easily fault Major League Baseball for its previous inaction, because of its non-judgemental, fact-based approach, its perceived integrity as a sport is, and will remain, more solid than cycling’s. And if cycling fails to address the notion that riders must be doped to win, this perceived integrity gap may soon become reality.

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6 Responses to “Why Baseball Looks (and may soon be) Cleaner Than Cycling”

  1. Tommy December 13, 2007 at 5:48 pm #

    Good article about the sport’s approach to drug testing. However, one point—namely, although the Mitchell report is a step in the right direction, baseball’s testing program is a farce. Players aren’t tested for HGH and many other drugs. It’s really a joke.
    Also, I think that baseball players are much more “protected” from their union than are cyclists. Can you imagine if the cycling testers had to work with the likes of Donald Fehr? There would be almost no progress. And no results. And nothing definitively done to stop athletes from drugging.

  2. cosmo December 13, 2007 at 9:18 pm #

    No argument that baseball’s current test structure is farcical. But I think today’s report marks the end of the MLBPA’s control of testing. The league, the owners, the fans, and even the players seem ready to put this era of baseball behind them.

    Unlike cycling, there’s (more or less) a single controlling entity in MLB, and I think that over the next few years, that despotic structure will force through changes that will restore integrity to the sport, much like it did after the Black Sox scandal way back when.

  3. Barrie M December 14, 2007 at 12:56 pm #

    Good article. I absolutely agree with you on how poorly the governing bodies of cycling have made thing so much worse. However, people don’t see baseball as a corrupt circus of dopers because baseball hasn’t undergone rigorous testing. Therefore, there isn’t a significant trail of doping violators publicly exposed for the media to attack. And once the dust settles on the Mitchell report, baseball will still appear prettier than cycling. All of the supposedly high profile cheats exposed in baseball have come from someone ratting them out, confessing to injecting them, or records of purchases by mail order, etc. When big guns like Clemens, Bonds, A-Rod, Big Pappy, Manny, Guererro, Pujols, etc. actually fail tests and are caught with the junk, then baseball’s rosy image will really start to take a hit. At that point you’ll begin to hear water cooler discussion of how dirty baseball is and how they are all dopers. Right now I think that talk is reserved for cyclists and track and field.

    If MLB turns their testing over to WADA (I don’t think they’re dumb enough to do that) then things will start to get interesting.

  4. Tommy December 14, 2007 at 2:05 pm #

    True, all these reports came basically through the testimony of 2 trainers. Imagine if all the trainers spoke up.
    Different story, indeed.

  5. Sebastian December 16, 2007 at 1:56 pm #

    Another difference between MLB and cycling: you can only have something as singular and authoritative as the Mitchell Report in a sports league that’s run within a single country. MLB is an American organization; Mitchell is part of the American government; etc. Part of the reason why cycling’s response to doping seems so chaotic is because some of the national governing bodies are so vehemently anti-doping (France, Germany) while others (Spain, Italy) obfuscate.

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