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Having that edge may be necessary

Why should Major League Baseball be immune to the cultural depravity that has touched every area of public life - from politics to religion, from corporate life to personal relationships?

In a report for MLB by former Sen. George Mitchell, America's ""pastime' has been revealed to contain its share of cheaters like most other professions.

The Mitchell Report alleges that 89 active and retired players used performance-enhancing drugs, giving them an edge over those who used nothing but their natural born abilities and hard-earned skills.

Is anyone surprised by these allegations? If so, they haven't been paying attention.

Even to the untrained eye it is obvious that the physical characteristics of many of these players could not be attained solely through weight lifting and a high protein diet. But it apparently didn't matter to team owners who needed something to put fans in the stadium seats and attract eyeballs to television screens following the disastrous players' strike in 1994. The consecutive game streak by the Baltimore Orioles' ""Iron Man,' Cal Ripken Jr. (a Mr. Clean in baseball if ever there was one), would not be enough. Many blind management eyes were turned away from what was going on in the clubhouse and elsewhere, as some players bulked up in order to be able to hit more home runs, which are the gold standard of baseball.

Will the fans care about these things? Probably not. Their expectation that professional athletes be ""role models' for their children ended sometime after the notion that anyone can grow up to be president was disproved by the $100 million it now takes just to get into the presidential campaign.

Most of us have become cynical about people and institutions in which we once put our faith. We now think everybody has, or is looking for, an edge. Politicians have lots of edges. Some religious leaders have an edge in private wealth and political clout. Certain business leaders have a huge edge by winning astronomical bonuses after sometimes failing to secure large profits for their companies. Young, blonde females have an edge on cable TV news.

Most people don't believe professional wrestling is legit. Ditto for all forms of gambling, or ""gaming' as the gamblers, in their efforts to deceive us, now call it.

The public's attitude seems to be that if Diogenes of Sinope were around today, his lamp would run out of oil long before he found an honest man.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig promises that current players who have been named in the Mitchell Report will face discipline, but he didn't say what kind or how severe it would be. Players, especially those who have a chance at making it into the Hall of Fame, are bound to challenge any disciplinary action in court.

What will members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America do when it comes time to elect players to the Baseball Hall of Fame? While some sports journalists were on top of the steroid abuse early - the San Francisco Chronicle, Sports Illustrated and NBC's Bob Costas were among them - too many others enjoyed the story of superheroes with impossible bodies hitting the home run ball and setting new records. If some of those writers looked the other way, are they fit to judge the qualifications of players about whose alleged steroid abuse they might have known but declined to report? And might they face a lawsuit or allegations of a conflict of interest should a certain player not be voted into the Hall?

The Mitchell Report is not the end of it. As for the fans, they'll pack the stadiums again next spring, awaiting the long ball and not seeming to care much whether such strength comes naturally or unnaturally. What lesson should the sons and daughters they take with them learn from the steroid scandal? Maybe it's that these days, you have to have an edge.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.