It has been suggested that there were no winners in baseball Thursday, that everybody was a loser, that everyone affiliated with the game suffered when George Mitchell provided his personal recap of the sport's steroid era.
While it's true that Thursday was a dark day for the game, only the naïve would suggest there were no winners.
In reality, there were plenty of them.
There were plenty of ballplayers who skated, plenty who today are breathing a huge sigh of relief and preparing for a Merry Christmas because they had the good fortune of doing their business with steroid providers and personal trainers who didn't get snagged by federal lawmen and, by extension, Mitchell.
The former senator from Maine named more than 80 players in his report, and while he landed a big fish in Roger Clemens, logic tells us he missed many, many others. More players than that tested positive for steroids in 2003, the year baseball tested players on a survey basis.
After that round of survey testing -
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you
- baseball began penalizing steroid users. The penalties got many players' attention. That much was clear when they started showing up to spring training with shrunken bodies.
"I'd been wanting to take off some weight," they'd say.
You can bet that dozens upon dozens more players than Mitchell named increased their power and their fastballs - and made huge dollars - by plunging steroid-filled syringes into their bodies in the years before that. Even Mitchell acknowledged that he could not possibly have uncovered every steroid abuser the sport has ever known.
The ones who eluded Mitchell were the winners, even if there's no pride in the victory. They still have their reputations and, in some cases, a spot reserved on the wall in Cooperstown. They got away with it. They were lucky they didn't do business with a guy named Kirk Radomski.
What has become conveniently known as the Mitchell Report would probably be better called the Radomski Report. Mitchell, the well-respected statesman who once turned down an appointment to the Supreme Court, came upon Radomski the way Jed Clampett came upon oil: He got lucky. The feds were onto Radomski, the steroid impresario who ran an illegal distribution business during his time as a New York Mets clubhouse attendant. Radomski pleaded guilty and, as part of a plea arrangement, agreed to hand over the dirt on his ballplayer clients to Mitchell.
Through Radomski, the feds and Mitchell were able to get to Brian McNamee, the former personal trainer for Clemens. McNamee dished on Clemens and Andy Pettitte, saying he injected both with performance-enhancing drugs.
Much of Mitchell's report, which, lest we forget, is a series of allegations, was a rehash of what we already knew of baseball's steroid era - Lenny Dykstra's "real good vitamins" and all the Balco boys. Almost all of the new stuff, the juicy stuff, pardon the pun, could be traced to Radomski.
If Radomski never surfaces, the report is pretty boring or the investigation is still going on.
Critics of the investigation have questioned Radomski's character, his reliability and his motives. It is certainly understandable why they would. Jose Canseco's character, reliability and motives were also questioned when he ratted out former teammates and friends in his steroid tell-all,
Three years after Canseco wrote his book, he is still a pariah around the fraternity of baseball. Ah, but here's the thing about that pariah: Few doubt what he said. It's the same thing with Radomski: Yes, he's of questionable character. Yes, he's a tattletale trying to save his own hide. But what he told Mitchell is believable. He's already in hot water with the federal authorities, and it would have gotten a lot hotter come sentencing time if he had lied.
Baseball hopes Mitchell's report represents the final chapter of the steroid era, but it's foolish to believe it will. Some players have wised up, moved on, and are now fueling their bodies with human growth hormone, a banned substance but one for which there is no reliable test. Only when a reliable test for HGH is developed, and baseball increases its random testing and gets the union to agree to a two-year ban for one failed test, will the sport see a full eradication of performance-enhancers.
The steroid era will also live on in the debates that the Mitchell Report will spawn, particularly on the legacies of players such as Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young winner who now walks side by side with Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, convicted cheaters in the court of public opinion.
In some ways, it is unfair that more than 80 players had their names listed in the Mitchell Report when it's likely that so many more were guilty of wrongdoing. But getting nabbed was the risk all players took when they decided to cross the lines of natural competition and reach for the juice.
The ones who found their names in the Mitchell Report are the losers in this whole drama.
The ones who didn't are the winners, even if there's no pride in this victory.