Sifting through the aftermath
After three news conferences, almost 80 named players, more than 300 pages and just one brave soul in an entire union, what are we to make of the Mitchell Report? Glad you asked. Here's the nuts and bolts of it.
Cut to the chase: who lost the most from the Mitchell Report? Easy: Roger Clemens. You might as well call it the Clemens Report. His personal trainer, Brian McNamee, gave him up as a serial steroid and HGH user. McNamee told George Mitchell that Clemens began using steroids while playing for Toronto in 1998. (Does that year sound familiar?) McNamee said he injected the steroids into Clemens' buttocks after the Jays returned home from a trip to Florida. Up to that point Clemens was 6-6 with a 3.27 ERA. After that he was literally unbeatable: 14-0 with a 2.29 ERA. Think steroids work? McNamee told Mitchell Clemens also used steroids and HGH in 2000 and 2001.
The Clemens Report ... er, Mitchell Report ... casts Clemens under the same harsh light as Barry Bonds: an all-time great who wanted more. His reputation is in tatters. We need to hear from him immediately, not his attorney.
Soon the Hall of Fame is going to need an out-building for all the great players who forfeited what would have been automatic enshrinement: Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Clemens, Bonds. ... The lineup is growing into one that could take on the best one that's actually in Cooperstown.
What's the most important lesson here? Get a mule to buy your drugs? Well, no. It's this: While the "list" of names is sexy, we have to remember we can't change the past, so we must look ahead, and that's where Mitchell really did his best work. He rightly recommended that the union and the commissioner's office must get out of the drug-testing business and leave it to experts. We're five years into their drug-testing plan and they're still improving it incrementally.
Mitchell was right to call for a completely independent agency to run the program from top to bottom and provide the needed transparency for people to believe in it. That means a full public audit (independent of names, of course) that accounts for the number of tests in and out of season, the results of those tests and the substances that show up as positives. Somehow that idea has never occurred to the owners and players.
Mitchell had almost two years and an unlimited budget to come up with this steroid "road map." How did he do? The guy lucked out. For a year Mitchell was putting together a glorified clip job, like a college term paper complete with footnotes, before Kirk Radomski and McNamee fell into his lap. It was only under orders from government agents that Radomski and McNamee talked to Mitchell. They risked further prosecution from government agents and harsher sentences if they failed to cooperate with Mitchell. So they sang. And Mitchell suddenly had the guts to his report.
How did Bud Selig handle this?
He did the right thing by taking the moral high ground, accepting all of Mitchell's recommendations at face value. "There is nothing in his recommendations I can even begin to disagree with," he said. Great move. He lobbed the ball to Donald Fehr's side of the court, knowing full well how closely Congress is watching this.
Two quibbles, though: Why does it always take an outside agent (articles, books, Congress, Mitchell) to get Selig to advance his position? And secondly, would it kill Selig to admit some culpability? When a reporter asked him to comment on Mitchell's assertion that all parties were culpable in letting the Steroid Era grow, including the commissioner, Selig danced around his responsibility. "The fact of the matter is it happened," he said.
So how did Fehr do?
Give him credit for going where Selig feared to tread: "In retrospect, we should have done something sooner," the union director said. Great to hear that kind of honesty
But Fehr couldn't help his snippy side from showing when he whined about not getting the Mitchell Report in advance, going as far as to say that snub alone harmed the clubs-players relationship. "Doing that in and of itself says something about the bargaining relationship," he said.
Save the violins for another time. The union didn't like this investigation from Jump Street, stonewalling Mitchell at every possible turn, and then they expect to get a review copy to suggest edits and changes? Please.
Will Selig suspend players? Yes, of course. Already he has suspended four players for non-analytic reasons (no failed drug test): Jason Grimsley, Ryan Jorgenson, Jay Gibbons and Jose Guillen, who has filed a grievance. So now he's confronted with public evidence that players received performance-enhancing drugs and he's supposed to let these guys off the hook? Sorry. And sorry to Mitchell, who suggested Selig ought to let all but the most serious offenders skate without penalty.
Selig said he will decide about penalties on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the evidence and what the penalties were at the time of the infraction. Expect a massive backlog in grievance hearings.
What's the big deal anyway? Why should we care if players shoot up drugs? Mitchell wickedly skewered the steroid apologists -- and backed the many disenchanted clean players I've talked to over the years -- with this concise view: "The minority of players who used such substances were wrong. They violated federal law and baseball policy, and they distorted the fairness of competition by trying to gain an unfair advantage over the majority of players who followed the law and the rules."
End of argument.
For the past five years baseball has been blowing out a rotator cuff patting itself on the back about its drug-testing program. What does the Mitchell Report say about it? Basically, baseball avoided a testing program for as long as it could and then consistently has tried to get away with a loophole-laden program in hopes you wouldn't notice. Here is my list of worst administrative offenses in the report, which tells you why they can't be trusted:
• Players have been tipped off about when they are tested. Mitchell recounts the Game of Shadows story of Greg Anderson, Bonds' trainer, bragging in 2003 that he knows Bonds will be tested at the end of May or beginning of June. And when was Bonds tested that year? May 28 and June 4.
Amazingly, union COO Gene Orza told players in September 2004 when they would be tested. (Fehr said Orza "tells me he has no recollection of doing it.'' Orza refused to speak to Mitchell.)
The report said Orza notified players as part of an "emergency" agreement between the union and commissioner's office because the feds had gotten their hands on the positive results from the 2003 survey testing. The union and commissioner's office agreed to a "moratorium" on testing those players until September, when, a player told Mitchell, Orza told them when they would be tested.
The player was not identified. But, independent of and prior to the report recently, a source told me exactly the same story as told to him by a player. That player is no longer active and is mentioned elsewhere in the report.
• Tests don't stop players from juicing up. Larry Bigbie said he went on steroids after the 2004 season, for instance, and then switched to HGH closer to spring training. It's a clear sign that the offseason testing program is wholly inefficient.
• Back in 1998 -- there's that year again -- Dr. Robert Millman, the medical director for MLB, threatened an outspoken steroid critic, Dr. Lewis Maharan, if he didn't "shut up" about steroids in baseball. That same year, at the winter meetings in Nashville, Millman was part of an MLB presentation that focused on the benefits of testosterone. The Indians team doctor was so disturbed by the upbeat nature of the report that he fired off a memo to GM John Hart with his concerns.
Did any player come out of this looking good? One: Frank Thomas. SI.com had reported in October that only one active player voluntarily cooperated with Mitchell. Turns out it was the Big Hurt. One player out of an entire union. It won't make the big guy popular at union meetings, but you have to admire Thomas for being true to his convictions.
OK, so now we have evidence from Mitchell that connects about 80 players to performance-enhancing drugs. Sounds like a big haul, no? No. It's a drop in the bucket. More than 100 players tested positive in 2003 alone -- when they knew the test was coming. And Mitchell wasn't interested in how steroid use began in the first place, so what happened before 1998 was largely ignored. The report says Curtis Wetzlaff, for instance, was dealing with 20 to 25 players by himself prior to his steroid distribution conviction way back in 1992. What we got was a tiny snapshot of guys unlucky enough to have hooked up with two guys pinched by the feds and dumb enough to have used their own names and checkbooks. That's it. How many Radomskis are out there? Let's go out on a limb and figure more than one. Hundreds upon hundreds of players have used PEDs. The majority of them just let out a sigh of relief.
We know ballplayers can hit, pitch and field. How good are they at names? Awful. Rondell White wrote checks to "Kurt" Radomski. My favorite check-writer, though, is Denny Neagle. The guy wrote checks to "Kurk," "Kiryk" and "Kirk" Radomski. I think they know the guy's name now.