It’s Show Time!

Published: April 3, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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John McCarthy is a former knuckleball pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization who, in 1992, started his Home Run Baseball Camp for kids in Washington, DC.  John teaches that“Talent is what you have; effort is what you give,” and there’s no room for drugs in striving to be your best.

We had a conversation about baseball’s steroid scandal shortly after the Mitchell Report was released.

What stands out most to you about the report?

Mitchell took everyone to the woodshed.  I think he did an honorable job.

Ultimately, it’s an indictment of the players union, [who sent out a memo asking its members not to testify] and [Baseball Commissioner] Bud Selig’s leadership, but the ultimate culprits are the players themselves.  Secondary responsibility has to go to the fans that show up for these games and swallow this stuff, whole. They must’ve been suspecting some of this [drug use].

Baseball is becoming more like the entertainment industry and less like the National Pastime.  During the era of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the commissioner [Judge Landis] knew the importance of baseball to American culture and our identity.  And for [the current] commissioner to allow steroids to sully the game for the sake of higher revenues or just by the fact that he couldn’t read the winds of change, it’s going to be an albatross that will define his entire tenure.

I call on the commissioner to resign and appoint George Mitchell as interim commissioner to steer the game through this storm.  Selig can’t stay on and right things because he lacks the credibility with the fans and the players.

What about the player’s union?

The union needs to recognize that they’re the caretakers of the National Pastime.  I stopped supporting them when they put their own self-interest ahead of the game itself.

When I played I saw it for what it was:  we were in the entertainment business. In amateur sports the testing is more severe, but in professional baseball, well… they call it “The Show” for a reason.  It’s a traveling road show.

Why did the players refuse to testify?  If you’re playing “clean,” wouldn’t you want a chance to go on the record?

The average major league player is not someone who follows public policy issues and understands the nuances of testifying.  If you asked a thousand major leaguers a year ago, “Who is George Mitchell?” maybe ten would have known of him and maybe one would have been able to speak intelligently about who this man is and the significance of testifying.

Where does the game go from here?

We’ve had 6 billion in revenue in 2007.  It’s probably going to be 7 billion next year.  The fans are going to forget about it.  The public has about a 90-day window for outrage and corporate scandal.  When spring training hits, they’ll announce some new drug testing, but the bottom line is that HGH and steroid tests are not developed enough to catch these guys.  So, as long as ball players keep hitting 500 foot home runs and they keep serving the beer, the good times will keep rolling.

What do you think should happen?

I think the level playing field is a myth.  In the Olympics, the drug testing is more rigorous, but even they have problems.  The Olympics are not driven by how many fans come to a game.  They’re driven by the best athletes in each country to compete.

Major League Baseball has a different set of conditions that creates people who want to cheat.  If they want to maintain their image as a cultural icon and the National Pastime, they need to cut [Selig] loose as commissioner, and have Mitchell become interim commissioner.  He should take a law and order approach.  He should work with Congress to revoke their anti-trust exemption if they don’t allow random, Olympic-style doping and blood testing.

If they don’t choose to do that, then they should say that we’re part of the entertainment industry where breast augmentation and botox flow!

Ultimately, it’s an opportunity.  We’ll see what they do with it.

What do you tell your kids about performance-enhancing drugs?

It’s fundamental cheating.  You’re doing something outside the rules of the game and you have to look inside your heart and say, “Is that the kind of person I want to be?”  You can cheat in a lot of ways.  Drugs aren’t the only way to cheat.


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