Sports

Commentary: Surprised by Mitchell report? Really?

SACRAMENTO -- A cynical nature had me viewing the endless blather over the Mitchell Report with a degree of amusement, as talking heads used words such as "stunning" and "incredible" to describe the revelations of rampant drug use by major leaguers.

Only extreme naiveté would elicit amazement by what was described in the report of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as "widespread illegal use of steroids and other anabolic substances" for more than a decade. Who could truly be surprised by the findings, flimsy as they were in some instances?

The report merely confirmed that Barry Bonds, the epicenter of the controversy, had juiced pitchers serving up his induced powerballs, somewhat leveling the playing field for the home run king.

If anything, the investigation showed inferior talent won't benefit greatly from performance-enhancing drugs, as suggested by some of the athletes implicated, such as local pip-squeaks F.P. Santangelo and Fernando Viná.

Santangelo should be commended for his forthright response, using human growth hormone in desperation to save his career. Others cower with their guilt, and some, such Roger Clemens and Bonds, were gifted enough not to need it, a greater crime.

Bonds was driven by jealousy and greed in an environment cultivated by permissive ownership. It's speculated that the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998 motivated Bonds to cheat, yet it was much more than that.

Two events likely pushed him over the edge. When the All-Century Team was announced in 1999, Bonds wasn't on it. Then, in 2000, he wasn't even the MVP on his team. Jeff Kent won the National League award.

Imagine Bonds' chagrin over those two events, and then consider how he hit 73 home runs in 2001. The report details how Giants management contributed to the sham by turning the other way while Greg Anderson had free clubhouse reign.

The shady practices were going on in the Oakland clubhouse even longer with Jose Canseco and McGwire. Tony La Russa's staunch support of McGwire's record rampage in St. Louis also suggests he turned a blind eye in the A's clubhouse.

A positive of the Mitchell findings is increased awareness of the problem and the message that cheaters shouldn't be viewed as role models. But it won't stop because million-dollar contracts are the inducement to seek a competitive edge.

CLUBHOUSE CULTURE -- It's doubtful the Mitchell Report will have a dramatic effect on teams, but the atmosphere in the Giants' digs definitely will change with Bonds no longer occupying center stage and influencing clubhouse dynamics.

Signing no-nonsense center fielder Aaron Rowand is a step in the right direction, bringing what manager Bruce Bochy described as "a warrior mentality" to a club without much veteran dependability in recent years.

Rowand, who signed for five years and $60 million, missed one game this season and was the unsung hero of the Philadelphia Phillies' NL East championship squad featuring MVP Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

The newcomer gave an insight to his character when asked to describe himself during a teleconference last week. Without hesitation, Rowand replied, "No B.S." -- a refreshing change from the mess dropped by the Bonds circus for 15 years.

He added: "I told 'Boch,' There's one thing I can promise you: I'll come every day ready to play, I won't take days off, I'm going to play whether I'm bruised up or not.'

"You never want to go home wondering, 'If I just tried a little harder here or done a little more there, what would have been the outcome of the game?' For me, it's all about bringing all I have to the table every day."

Rowand savors his reputation as a player who would run through a wall to make a catch -- as he nearly did in 2006 -- and he's no slouch at the plate, either. He hit .309 with 45 doubles and a .374 on-base percentage in 2007.

Bochy plans to bat him fifth behind No. 3 hitter Randy Winn and Bengie Molina, and Rowand is a .301 lifetime hitter in that spot. Overall, his consistent career marks include a .286 average, .289 with runners in scoring position, .289 on the road and .283 at home.

Phillies general manager Pat Gillick bemoaned the fact the Giants would commit $186 million to Barry Zito and Rowand in two years, but the signing gives the club Gold Glovers up the middle with Omar Vizquel at shortstop and Molina at catcher, solid insurance for stout pitching.

BILLYBALL II -- In the modern version of "BillyBall," A's General Manager Billy Beane develops star players such as Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder and allows them to slip away for prospects before they become too expensive for the low-budget franchise.

Beane struck again last week by swapping All-Star starter Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks for six unproven talents, and this time it didn't make as much sense because their 2007 pitching ace still was affordable under contract control.

The move was a concession that the A's aren't going to be as competitive in the AL West in the immediate future, not a good message to send to fans for a team struggling for support. But there's a method to Beane's madness.

His track record on such matters earns him the benefit of the doubt. It's not the best PR move, but it's a refreshing dose of reality. Beane knows the 2008 A's can't catch the Angels -- or perhaps the Mariners and Rangers -- so he's folding his hand and looking for higher stakes when the new ballpark opens in 2011 or '12.

Three of the new A's ranked among the top seven Arizona prospects in the recent issue of Baseball America: Outfielders Carlos Gonzalez (No. 1) and Aaron Cunningham (No. 7), and left-hander Brett Anderson (No. 3). And keep in mind many people winced when Mulder was traded to St. Louis in 2004 -- for Daric Barton and Haren.

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