Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report and Schadenfreude

As a libertarian, I am mostly ok with the idea of athletes using steroids, even after today's Mitchell Report. As much of a sports fan as I am, I understand that spectator sports are first and foremost entertainment, and that the judge of whether a product is a good product is wins and losses, which do more than anything else to keep the fans interested. Since teams usually care first and foremost about running a successful business, and since wins and losses (and gaudy statistics) are often the surest way of ensuring a successful business, they will typically (not always) try to put out the best team they can, regardless of most ethical issues. This creates a tremendous incentive for individual players to do everything they can to perform well enough to make themselves as valuable as possible to their owner. So I don't have much of an ethical problem with players using so-called "performance-enhancing drugs" (which is, much like the "War on Drugs," a great euphemism for "substances that enhance performance and which are politically unpopular"). In fact, I largely support the right of players to use such substances, and were it not for his perjury, I'd even go so far as to say that Barry Bonds's actions were completely justified (especially given the way the media treated him before he was on the juice compared to how the media treated McGwire when he was on the juice).

So ideologically, I am opposed to the Mitchell Report's naming of names. But I have a big problem here, as well: two of the biggest named athletes in the report were Yankees (Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte), apparently given the juice by a Yankees employee. Not only were they Yankees, but they were Yankee idols, especially Pettitte (who fit the arbitrary description of a "true Yankee" to a T). Moreover, I am a lifelong Mets fan who has developed a passionate hatred for all things pinstripe. This means that I have this intense need for schadenfreude over watching Clemens and Pettitte get fried in the media.

So, what is a Yankee-hating libertarian to do? Feel schadenfreude, or feel sympathy (or at least uncaring ambivalence)? In the end, I decided that I will split the difference: ambivalence for Clemens and delicious, delicious schadenfreude for Pettitte.

My logic works like this: Clemens is a career mercenary, and the most dominant pitcher in recent memory even before his recent, apparently steroid fueled, maintenance of said dominance in his 40s. In other words, Clemens is in some way a libertarian Rand-fan's idol- he never pretended to care too much about what other people thought of him, he did the best that he could to be the best pitcher on the planet, and he was the best pitcher on the planet (again, even before he presumably started on the 'roids diet). He was also completely honest his entire career about what mattered to him most: being paid what he was worth to his team. He was also not a "true Yankee" in any real sense: he played for the Yankees because that was who was willing to give him the most return on his services. There was never any doubt that he was a mercenary. And, as with Bonds, Clemens was a dominant player both with and without "the juice." So, I guess my point about Clemens is that he was always honest with himself about who he was, what he did for a living, and why he did it; to a large extent, I think he was even honest with the public and his teammates about those points. My biggest complaint with him is that he never came out and just said "up yours" to the media for their hypocrisy on the issue over the last ten years.

Pettitte, on the other hand, is entirely worthy of my schadenfreude. First of all, he is as I said, a "true Yankee," which implies that the fans view you as having a certain level of integrity. There are few things on this planet that annoy me more than Yankees fans who distinguish between "true Yankees" and not-true Yankees. Pettitte also seemed to bask in the glory of being so highly regarded by his fans. So, by taking pleasure in Pettitte's fall from grace, I'm largely taking pleasure in the inevitable effect his downfall will have on Yankee fan elitism and arrogance. By contrast, Clemens' unmasking, by itself, is unlikely to have much of an effect on Yankee fan elitism and arrogance- again, he wasn't a "true Yankee."

One more thing about Pettitte: he's also apparently a die-hard, holier-than-thou evangelical who has no problem associating with the Falwell/Robertson Christian Broadcast Network. I also recall him doing commercials a while back for some evangelical how to live your life book.

There's also this gem of a quote from his book:

As a Christian I also have one goal. I want to fulfill God's purpose for my life. I constantly ask myself "What does God want me to do?" and "Where does He want me to go?" Those may sound like odd questions to ask in a book about purity. After all, doesn't purity just mean sexual purity? Hardly. As I said in the last chapter, living a pure life means trying to please God in everything I do. And the best way to please God is living in a way He can work through me and use me in other people's lives.

Apparently, purity means using illegal, performance-enhancing substances. Andy Pettitte, meet Ted Haggard. And my schadenfreude.

More reactions via memeorandum.

**UPDATE** Apparently, Pettite is named in the report for HGH rather than steroids. This doesn't really change my line of thought, but it's an important correction to note. A few other things: I have never felt any schadenfreude over Jason Giambi: he never struck me as being hypocritical about this issue, he apparently told the truth when unceremoniously hauled before a grand jury, and he was never accepted as a "true Yankee." Indeed, he was treated like complete dirt when his testimony was leaked- I actually sympathize with Giambi.

Also, Clemens' name appears in the report dating back to his Toronto days in the mid-90s. Since his numbers deteriorated in 1992, and came back dramatically in 1993, I assume this to mean that he started on the juice in '93. This doesn't change the fact that he was dominant in the pre-strike, pre-'roids era, or any of my other analysis.

Finally- one more thing that I don't think is getting enough attention here yet is that this report is really just the tip of the iceberg. The report names over 80 players, but it represents only names that Mitchell was able to get from a very limited number of sources. I would be surprised if much less than half of MLB players in the late-90s to early 2000s were on the juice at some point. I would hope that this whole incident will make people start to rethink the effects of drug bans, including the War on (Some) Drugs; but I know that it won't, and will much more likely lead to the conclusion that "we're just not fighting drugs hard enough."