Friday, December 14, 2007

Say it isn't so, George

This begins with my 17 year old daughter who can keep a score book and explain the infield fly rule. I brought her up right.

She's also smart. Being able to keep a book and explain esoteric rules is not an indication of intelligence. A survey of people who can do those things makes clear the difference between knowing what one is talking about regarding baseball and possessing intelligence. Take any one of a number of baseball commissioners, or managers, or fans, for that matter--as a subset, to save yourself time--in doing that survey.

She began her senior (high school) thesis a couple of months back and she chose to compare the baseball steroid investigation with the Red Scare of the fifties.

The aptness of that didn't hit me until yesterday when I listened to sports talk radio in response to the Mitchell report on steroids and baseball.

The people doing the show, and almost all of the callers, assume that all the players named in the report are guilty of using steroids. At one point, one of the hosts of the show said that he didn't need any proof to know that a certain player used steroids; all he had to do was look at the guy, the way he acts, and his performance.

I know what he meant, and I understand perfectly what he meant. He is putting together circumstantial evidence (which is a completely valid kind of evidence, by the way) and drawing his own conclusions based on what he knows and believes to be true.

Fine. But having been a lawyer and dabbled in being a judge I have learned that this can be darned dangerous and that before we do anything other than talk about stuff, we need do do something other than this kind of "proving."

I don't want to defend any of the players, here, because I don't know what they did or did not do.

I want to defend the players' right, however, to have some kind of due process before we go putting asterisks after their records or deciding they should not be in the Hall of Fame.

The sports talkers say there is plenty of evidence for us to consider the charges true. Good. If it's so easy to prove then let's prove it. Baseball should set up some kind of a process--with the cooperation of the player's union--and present the evidence to a fact finder, with the players involved having the chance to defend themselves and to confront the witnesses against them. (Saying, by the way, that they declined to speak to the Mitchell investigation--in essence, that they refused to talk to the prosecutor before the indictment was handed down is not the same thing). If it's so obvious, let's do that.

Due process, of called a "legal technicality" by many who have never deprived of it.

What is so like the red scare is not just the rush to judgment against people who are accused of something that everyone is in a hurry to say they are against.

Some of the players are accused on the basis of some hard evidence (receipts for payment of steroids, for example) while some are accused (as some were accused during the communist witch hunts) on the basis of statements made by people who, themselves, stand accused of illegally providing steroids (a controlled substance) to players; they are accused of being, in essence, "drug dealers."

Does that sound like people who are in jeopardy for being communists naming people as communists to save their own skin? The name Ronald Reagan, head of the Screen Actors Guild, who provided names to the McCarthyites comes to mind.

Maybe the players accused solely by unsavory types are guilty. Maybe the unsavory characters, in addition to trying for lenient treatment (if that's what's going on, and I don't know that it is), are telling the truth.

People's lives were ruined when, with no proof other than allegation, labels like "communist" or "fellow traveler" were attached to their names. People's lives are also ruined, in more subtle ways, when they attach such labels to others with no proof beyond allegation.

I also want to know more about what George Mitchell, part owner of a baseball team, means when he talks about the player's union as a source of the problem, here. And I am a little concerned that someone who is a part owner of a team is the investigator, here. There are all kinds of aspects of this that I think need to be on the table (again, I don't know that there's anything going on here, but we owe it to players accused and to ourselves to examine this aspect of the situation). Could it be that the agenda here, at least in part, is to advance the owner's cause in the constant struggle between the union and the owners? Can we be sure that Mr. Mitchell did not protect Red Sox players because he has a stake--emotionally and financially in that team? I know Senator Mitchell has credentials--but America is not about credentials and, as a former prosecutor and judge he knows the way that the appearance of impropriety can undermine an investigation and prosecution. Why, then, did he agree to do it?

Again, I don't know; we don't know. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone involved, here, to find this stuff out before we go asterisking records or trashing the union.

I am saying that the American way is to prove allegations like this in a certain way when life, liberty and property/the pursuit of happiness is on the line. And, for these players, those things are on the line. Their reputations--their ability to use their status as major league players for whatever advantage they can, their chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, their ability to live their lives beyond the reach of innuendo--are at risk.

Ours are, too. Is it going to be that any or all of us can be brought down this way? Is it going to be that any or all of us are going to bring people down in this way?

The possibility is that the herd--we--are being stampeded, here. What's wrong with a little due process to make sure that's not true?

It's the difference between and indictment and a conviction. We say we respect people's rights and that we want people to get a fair shake. Integrity would indicate, then, that we prove things about people before we punish them with asterisks and bans from the Hall of Fame.

So, does our response to this show our integrity? Or does it show we really don't care about innocent until proven guilty? Does it show that we are willing to give people, when we disapprove of what they are accused of doing, less than a fair shake, less than the kind of shake we'd want to get?

Another aspect of this, getting back to my daughter, is that she is a San Francisco Giant fan (there is no accounting for choices kids make, sometimes) who dislikes Barry Bonds. She is personally convinced he is guilty of steroid use. She saw the innuendo and the potential for slander of this whole steroid thing months ago even though she would be among the last people on earth to apologize for or defend Barry Bonds. I am pleased to see that she wants to make sure that even people she doesn't care for, even people she believes are guilty, get their day in court and are not unfairly brought down by the court of public opinion.

That's integrity.

That's--ahem-- my girl.

I don't know if she got that from me or not, so although I'd like to repeat, at this point, that I brought her up right, I'll confine myself to saying that I am as pleased with the way she is growing up as I am concerned about the way that most people seem to be showing a lack of integrity, here.

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