Mitchell to drop bombshell
Twenty months after former Maine Senator and statesman George Mitchell accepted the responsibility to investigate baseball's steroid problem, he is set to release his findings at a 2 p.m. news conference on Thursday. Early indications are that the long-awaited Mitchell Report will be a bombshell, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 70 players to be named as steroid users, according to several high-ranking team officials.
One baseball official familiar with the findings called the report "painstaking" in detail and said that it runs 300-400 pages and may include some documentary evidence (as did the Dowd report, baseball's 1989 investigation of gambling allegations involving Pete Rose). Another person familiar with the findings said that those named in the report include "potential Hall of Famers." (The report will be available online via Mitchell's office.)
Mitchell faced a series of obstacles in compiling his report, not the least of which was the lack of cooperation from active players (only a compelled Jason Giambi and one other as-yet-unnamed player testified) and the perception that Mitchell is too close to commissioner Bud Selig. Mitchell's position as a director of the Boston Red Sox also came into question as a possible conflict of interest.
A hefty segment of the report, which cost Major League Baseball at least $20 million and may have been delivered to Selig's top people as early as Monday, will center on the testimony of former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, according to sources. Mitchell appears to have hit the mother lode with the previously unknown Radomski, who was convicted for two felonies involving the sale of steroids to big leaguers from 1995 through 2005. Part of Radomski's agreement with federal prosecutors included full cooperation with Mitchell's probe.
There will be an official response from Selig 2½ hours after Mitchell's news conference. Penalties for players, however, will occur only in some cases and will be tied to the penalties the sport had in place at the time of the transgressions.
Here are some key questions surrounding the Mitchell Report:
How many players will be named? At least two high-ranking team officials independently said they were bracing for "50 to 70 names" of players. Mitchell declined comment regarding that estimate in an e-mail, but no one has suggested that the number is off base. The New York Daily News reported on its Web site on Tuesday that the number is expected to be between 60 and 80. Some will claim that's still a relatively low number and well in line with the first survey steroid test, back in 2003, which resulted in 5 to 7 percent failures (as many as 98 players). However, it will far exceed the early projections of most skeptics, who believed that Mitchell would be wasting his time and that his report would yield no new names.
Considering there's a federal case pending against Barry Bonds, can he be mentioned in the report? Mitchell did not address that question in an e-mail query to him. But baseball people say the report would be incomplete without mention of Bonds, who was indicted for perjury for telling a grand jury that he didn't knowingly take steroids.
Where did Mitchell get all the names? Sources indicate they came from a combination of the BALCO case, the Albany, N.Y., district attorney who has made significant progress in busting rogue pharmacies and doctors, and of course Radomski. But by all indications Radomski appears to be the main supplier of names, especially the ones we have yet to hear. In an e-mail, John Clarke, a lawyer with Mitchell's firm, DLA Piper, and spokesman in this case, wrote, "As part of his plea agreement with the United State Attorney's Office in the Northern District of California, Kirk Radomski agreed to cooperate with Senator Mitchell's investigation." By other accounts, that undersells Radomski's value to the case.
There's no question that Mitchell's big break came when the ex-clubbie turned steroid supplier agreed to testify for MLB as part of his plea deal, and his sentencing has been postponed twice, possibly related to his general cooperation. Not only is he said to have had dozens of steroid clients, but the feds also reportedly found phone records and bank statements tying many players to Radomski. So there's a significant paper trail that will be tough for implicated players to refute.
Word around Radomski's Long Island neighborhood is that he is none too pleased with what he perceives as a lack of support from some of his former baseball-playing customers. And if that isn't enough to get him to talk, the possibility of a vastly reduced sentence (the two felonies he pled to meant he could be sentenced to up to 25 years) surely did the trick. Sources say he has cooperated fully with Mitchell, granting multiple several-hour sitdown interviews. (Click here for a profile of Radomski.)
Should the Mets be more worried than other teams since Radomski was their employee? The proximity of Radomski to Mets players (he worked as a Shea Stadium clubhouse attendant for years prior to selling steroids) could mean they have representation on the list. However, it appears that Radomski worked to become a league-wide supplier, so the assumption shouldn't be made that the Mets will be significantly over-represented.
Did any names come from the survey testing of 2003? The names of those who failed that initial screening were supposed to have been kept secret. That list of failures has been seen by a number of eyes since the samples and roster were subpoenaed in the BALCO case. However, those results were meant only as a survey and likely will not be held against anyone now.
Will there be penalties? That's up to Selig and his top lieutenants at MLB, but there are likely to be fewer suspensions than names in the report. That's not because Selig lacks of faith in Mitchell's work but because Selig and Co. will abide by the rules in place at the time of the alleged transgressions. Penalties for steroid usage weren't introduced until 2004, and that year it took two transgressions to draw a ban. Since Radomski's business was closed down in 2005, and Selig didn't get the 50-game ban he sought until November 2005, most penalties will follow earlier guidelines, which called for either a 15-game ban for a second offense (that's what Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons recently got) or a 10- or perhaps 30-game ban for first or second offenses.
The rules changed twice as the steroid problem became better understood and Selig pushed the Players Association for more stringent penalties.
Why did Gibbons and Guillen receive penalties when others who were caught up in reported HGH and steroid purchases were not? Guillen and Gibbons recently received 15-day MLB-ordered suspensions following reports of steroid and HGH purchases, and while no explanation was given for the length of those suspensions, it is unlikely the 15 days is an arbitrary number. That was the precise length of the penalty in 2005 for a second infraction, so presumably those two players were found to have violated the rule twice. As for other players recently cited in steroid- and HGH-buying reports, either those reports were unproven or represented single incidents during a time when it took two transgressions to garner a penalty.
Why did Selig and his men get advance word of the report? Clarke, Mitchell's spokesman, explained the lead time in an e-mail, saying, "Commissioner Selig has a legal obligation to keep confidential some information regarding the Major League Baseball drug testing program. In order to make certain that Senator Mitchell does not inadvertently include in the report information in violation of that obligation. His representatives have the right to review the report three business days before it is made public."
So with the report expected Thursday, it is believed that Selig, or at least his top lieutenants, Rob Manfred and Bob DuPuy, both lawyers, may have received a copy as early as Monday, which should also provide MLB ample time to formulate an appropriate response.
Should anyone beyond the players have anything to worry about? In a word, yes. Ideally, Selig should have detected a problem sooner than he did, and at the very least he should have fought the union harder and sooner for a tougher policy. The union, in its zest to protect the privacy of the players, ultimately hurt the sport by fighting so hard and winning so many delays to a tougher policy.
For years the union claimed that the steroid suspicions were overblown. However, in recent years the union has come to the realization that the problem was more serious than believed and have allowed previously unprecedented alterations to the CBA.
General managers, team trainers and other executives were also scrutinized by Mitchell, and it will be interesting to see what he learned about their roles. Did they encourage the use of steroids? Did they turn a blind eye? Or were they just blithely unaware of what was going on?
Will Mitchell keep getting heat, and does he deserve it? Mitchell was selected by Selig because he is someone with gravitas whom the commissioner knows and trusts, and also because he is well-respected by members of Congress after a distinguished tenure as a democratic senator. One major reason for Mitchell's selection is that Major League Baseball's greatest goal was to keep its problem in-house and avoid continuing inquiries and pressure from Congress, which took hits for grandstanding in early 2005 but probably got the ball rolling toward stricter penalties -- and this inquiry -- with its memorable inquisition of six current and former players, including admitted steroid user and whistle blower Jose Canseco as well as Rafael Palmeiro, whose finger-wagging display became even more memorable after he became one of 13 players to fail an MLB steroid test.
Some have pointed to Mitchell's ties to the Red Sox as reason for skepticism, and optimally he should have vacated his post as a director with the team before undertaking this assignment. However, Mitchell's reputation is one of great integrity, and it would be difficult to believe that he would risk his reputation to further the cause of his friendship with Selig or his favorite ballclub. But if the list of names includes no Red Sox, that won't prevent critics from crying foul about a potential conflict of interest.