Thursday was a "gotcha" moment for many in Major League Baseball. The list of names that came from the report of an investigation headed by former Sen. George J. Mitchell read like a graduation ceremony in the hall of shame.
Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Andy Pettite, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Jason Giambi the list goes on and includes many of the game's biggest names over the past decade.
But the report isn't really about baseball players so much. Mitchell might as well have added disgraced track star Marion Jones to the list, or a host of others, including business leaders, who either have used steroids or found some other way to cheat for gain. The report really was about the false notion that there are things in life more important than honesty, integrity and a good name.
And viewed in that context, the report aims itself squarely at baseball not so much the individual players as the game itself, its owners, the players union, administrators and commissioner. They turned a blind eye to problems that were becoming increasingly apparent, all because of the money to be made.
After the World Series was canceled in 1994 amid a labor dispute, the sport allowed record-setting performances to lure fans back in unprecedented numbers. Those performances weren't just about hitting home runs, although the feats of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were quantum leaps beyond anything accomplished before. They also were about pitching, including Gagne's incredible streak of 84 consecutive saved games and Clemens' enduring strength into his 40s.
Major league revenues passed $6 billion last season for the first time. But that was purchased, to a large degree, at the expense of the game's reputation.
Mitchell's report puts it much more kindly: "With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that baseball missed the early warning signs of a growing crisis."
Whether baseball has the benefit of foresight remains to be seen. As the report notes, the players union "was largely uncooperative" with investigators.
The most important part of the report is its section describing why you should care. Simply put, it is because of the "reality that hundreds of thousands of our children are using" performance enhancing substances.
Steroid users, as the report says, increase the risks of "psychiatric problems, cardiovascular and liver damage, drastic changes to their reproductive systems, musculoskeletal injury" ... as well as cancer, heart disease and other ills.
More importantly, however, their use by a list of successful athletes, tacitly condoned by the sport's leaders, tells kids that performance itself is the most important thing. That is the tragedy the Mitchell report laid bare. Baseball and the players union need to respond swiftly and decisively to put that falsehood to rest.