ONLY THROUGH ATINY KEYHOLE could George Mitchell view the dimly lit room ofperformance-enhancing drugs in baseball, his scope constricted by a stiff codeof silence among union members and a drug policy crafted and administered bythe commissioner's office and the union to be opaque where convenient ratherthan fully transparent. Even thus blinkered, the former U.S. senator got asroguishly ugly a glimpse of baseball as ever has been seen.
This is an article from the Dec. 24, 2007 issue
The MitchellReport, released last Thursday, 21 months after commissioner Bud Seligappointed Mitchell to operate his investigation, could not by definition oraspiration be comprehensive. It did not have to be. A peek through a keyhole isenough. It is enough to define an era, not for the first time, but officially,once and for all, as legally and ethically corrupt.
Uncovering onlytwo new main arteries of information across two decades of rampant drug use inthe game (and only then by the serendipity of federal intervention), Mitchellgathered enough to pull together a detailed, damning narrative. His reportdepicts a drug-addled game in which steroids and syringes were found intoiletry bags, lockers, rolled-up socks and overnight packages delivered toclubhouses. The drugs were paid for with money orders, personal checks, cash—asmuch as $10,000—left on doorsteps in express delivery boxes. The preferredresponse of players, club officials and MLB executives was to look the otherway.
As important asthe Mitchell Report is as a historical document, though, its real worth will bedetermined by its capacity as an agent of change. The salaciousness of namingnames will fade. (However hamstrung, Mitchell identified three times as manyplayers as did the entire four-year history of mandatory steroid testing: 89,including Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada and Eric Gagné.) What he saw through akeyhole will matter only when we get the answer to this question:
THE FIRST RESULTof the Mitchell Report should be for baseball to get out of the drug-testingbusiness immediately and entirely. The report proves that owners and playerscannot be trusted to run a transparent, state-of-the-art program. They need tohire experts, such as those in the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), totake over all aspects of drug testing.
Beginning in 2006,baseball did name an "independent program administrator," but thecommissioner's office and union still control such key protocols as the numberof tests (both in and out of season), the substances that are banned, whocollects and tests the samples, what determines "reasonable cause" formore frequent testing and how to investigate and determine positive tests."Sport cannot promote and police itself," says Travis Tygart, CEO ofUSADA. "In my mind that's an actual conflict of interest."
Here are examples,most of which are identified in the Mitchell Report, showing why baseball needsto turn over the testing to independent experts.
1. Some playerswere able to get notification well in advance of their test dates—early enoughso that they could, in theory, get or stay clean. In 2004, according to the SanFrancisco Chronicle, Greg Anderson, then the personal trainer for Barry Bonds,learned that Bonds would be tested in late May or early June. The San FranciscoGiants slugger was tested on May 28 and again on June 4. Moreover, thatSeptember, according to the Mitchell Report, an unidentified ex--major leaguerwas tipped off by players' association chief operating officer Gene Orza thathe would be tested within two weeks. (Orza declined to be interviewed byMitchell.)
2. No drug teststook place in the 2004, '05 and '06 postseasons.
3. No drug testsoccurred in the off-seasons following the 2004 and '05 seasons. When baseballdid act after '06, it conducted only 68 tests—involving fewer than 6% of theplayers—and in those cases players had been afforded advance notice of between24 and 72 hours.
4. Teams weregiven 24-hour advance notice of in-season tests. (Selig, who previously had theauthority to end this practice, said only after the release of the MitchellReport that he would do so.)
5. Baseballdestroys virtually all drug-testing data, even data from which playeridentification has been removed. Retaining test information is important,Tygart says, to establish a baseline and pattern of information to detectso-called designer steroids. Such data aided in identifying a previouslyunfamiliar steroid, norbolethone, in the otherwise negative samples of cyclistTammy Thomas in 2002.
6. Baseball doesnot publish a full accounting of test results, which would name the substancesthat triggered positive results.
Mitchell addressedmost of these concerns in his recommendations, calling for a more independentand transparent program and better off-season testing. Selig was quick toendorse the recommendations whole cloth, saying, "There is nothing in hisrecommendations, frankly, that I could even begin to disagree with."
To change theprogram, owners and players would have to reopen the collective bargainingagreement (which runs through 2011) and find common ground on the new terms.There is precedent for this: In '05, in the wake of congressional hearings onsteroid use, the owners and the players modified the CBA by adding HGH and 17other compounds to the banned list and strengthening penalties for positivetests.
Trouble is, theMitchell Report may drive owners and players further apart rather than closertogether. And with Selig giving Mitchell's recommendations a blanketendorsement so quickly, he put public pressure squarely on union directorDonald Fehr, who was far more wary of Mitchell's investigation. (A mere twoknown active players, Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas and NewYork Yankees first baseman--DH Jason Giambi, cooperated with the investigation,and Giambi did so only under threat of disciplinary action following hisadmission of steroid use in a May 2007 newspaper article.)
Selig risksfurther harming his relationship with the union if he decides to disciplineactive players named in the report, which seems very possible given his 50-gamesuspension of righthander Jason Grimsley and 15-day suspensions of twooutfielders, the Baltimore Orioles' Jay Gibbons and the Kansas City Royals'Jose Guillen, for "non-analytic" reasons (i.e., no failed test) beforethe release of the report. (Grimsley and Gibbons accepted their suspensions;Guillen is appealing.) Selig said he would consider disciplinary action "ona case-by-case basis."
There is, however,something Selig must do before he weighs those cases: Admit his ownculpability. Fehr at least hinted at remorse on Thursday when he said, "Inretrospect, we should have done something sooner." Given the same openingearlier in the afternoon, Selig passed yet again, hemming and hawing: "Thefact of the matter is it happened."
Selig, who becameacting commissioner in 1992, claims to have been awakened to the dangers ofdrugs in baseball in '98, but the report refers to the owners' halfheartedattempt to bring up steroids during the collective bargaining talks of '94. TheMitchell Report also collected numerous widely published articles from the1990s about steroids in baseball, replete with G.M.'s and players addressingthe issue on the record. Yet Selig did not institute drug testing in the minorleagues (where the union has no collective bargaining power) until 2001 and didnot push for it in the majors until the following year. Mitchell rightly notedthat the blame for a drug culture run amok is shared by all parties.
In August 2002,according to the report, Giants athletic trainer Stan Conte told generalmanager Brian Sabean, based on a conversation with an unnamed player, that GregAnderson might be a steroid supplier. As Bonds's trainer, Anderson had fullaccess to the clubhouse and weight room, a privilege Conte wanted revoked.Sabean, the report said, did not pass along Conte's concerns to MLB officials,refused to confront Anderson or Bonds, and did not revoke Anderson's clubhouseaccess, in part, because Bonds would have vigorously objected.
The incidentoccurred 13 months before the federal raid of BALCO, which led to Anderson'sand three others' pleading guilty to drug-related charges. It stands as one ofthe more egregious examples of how baseball officials let the steroid culturegrow under their noses. Management's refusal and reluctance to act may not havebeen put in the report in boldface, italicized and cast as paragraph headings,as were the names of players, but they are in there:
1. The fourindividually named drug suppliers in the report were each employed by clubsand/or given full access to their clubhouses: Kirk Radomski (New York Mets),Brian McNamee (Blue Jays and Yankees), Luis Perez (Florida Marlins and MontrealExpos) and Anderson (Giants).
2. Perez told anMLB security official in 2003 that he supplied eight players with steroids and12 players with other drugs. None of the players were ever interviewed.
3. There are fourinstances in the report in which club officials, trainers and/or clubhouseemployees learned of syringes in the clubhouse. In each case no follow-upaction was taken.
4. In 2004 Oriolesofficials learned that designated hitter David Segui was receiving HGH from aFlorida physician. They did not report their discovery to MLB.
The MitchellReport makes clear that steroids have been routine topics of discussions amongplayers and team officials—so long as each group didn't discuss drugs with theother. It includes notes about steroid concerns from Los Angeles Dodgersofficials about six-time All-Star righthander Kevin Brown and four-timeAll-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca. In e-mail exchanges Texas Rangers officialsoffered their suspicions about Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP, and BostonRed Sox officials confided theirs about Gagné, the '03 National League Cy YoungAward winner whom they would acquire last July.
Notes from Dodgersstaff meetings in 2003, for instance, include this report on Brown, who, likeLo Duca, refused to be interviewed by Mitchell: "[G]etting to the age of nagging injuries.... Question what kind of medication he takes....Effectiveness goes down covering 1st base or running bases.... more susceptibleif you take meds to increase your muscles—doesn't increase the attachments. Ishe open to adjusting how he takes care of himself? He knows he now needs to dostuff before coming to spring training to be ready. Steroids speculated byGM."
Concerning LoDuca, staff notes from that same season reveal, "Got off the steroids....Took away a lot of hard line drives.... would consider trading.... If you dotrade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a goodyear. That's his makeup."
The Dodgers tradedBrown to the Yankees after the 2003 season and dealt Lo Duca to the Marlins thefollowing July. In the month following the trade, Lo Duca wrote a check to KirkRadomski for $3,200.
On Dec. 14, 2005,federal agents executed a search warrant on the Long Island home of Radomskiand charged him with distributing steroids and money laundering. Three monthslater Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Mitchell, stonewalled by theplayers, spent a year largely putting together a glorified term paper aboutsteroids. His luck changed on April 26, 2007, the day Radomski signed his pleaagreement with federal law officers. As part of the agreement, Radomski agreedto cooperate with Mitchell in return for a recommendation for leniency insentencing. The Mitchell Report suddenly grew some teeth.
Radomski's storywas the tale of steroids in baseball as never told before: out from theshadows, personalized, a made-for-TV movie that covered the entire arc of theuse of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Radomski had parlayed hisconnections as a Mets clubhouse attendant in the early 1990s into a thrivingbusiness with a clientele that expanded by word of mouth, even after he leftthe club in 1995 to run a car-detailing shop. More and more players saw thelack of institutional control as an open door to juice.
As Segui, whobefriended Radomski when he played for the Mets in 1994 and early '95, told SIlast week, "I wouldn't call it a mistake because I knew what I was doing.If there was testing, I wouldn't have done it. It's like if there were no speedlimits posted on the highway, would you drive 55?"
Radomski told hisstory to the feds, and also to Mitchell. Part of his account involved McNamee,Clemens's trainer, whom the Yankees hired in 2000 on the ace righthander'sadvice. McNamee had wanted a Lexus and was put in touch with Radomski, who knewa dealer of the luxury car. Soon McNamee started ordering steroids fromRadomski—steroids, McNamee told Mitchell, that he injected into Clemens. TheMitchell Report states that McNamee shot up Clemens between 16 and 21 timeswith at least three different steroids and HGH over the 1998, 2000 and '01seasons. He also injected lefthander Andy Pettitte, Clemens's close friend andfrequent training partner, with HGH in 2002.
By July, McNameewas talking to Mitchell, having been identified by the feds as a Radomskicustomer and possible steroid distributor; in return for his full and truthfulcooperation, McNamee would avoid prosecution. The game had changed.
As he did with allplayers connected to the report, Mitchell asked in a letter, sent through theunion, to speak with Clemens. "In the initial letter, I identified the teamthe player was with and the year in which the allegation occurred,"Mitchell told SI last Friday, explaining his protocol. "There was someconfusion about whether I had intended to provide them with information. I hadsaid publicly on many occasions that I had. A couple of months ago, that wasclarified.
"Theyunderstood clearly that I would provide them with whatever information I had. Iwould give them a chance to review [the allegations] with their attorney andrespond. And almost without exception the response I got was a letter from theplayers' association saying they declined."
As of Monday,Clemens had remained silent since the report was released. His attorney, RustyHardin, denied that Clemens used steroids, pointed out that Clemens nevertested positive (there was no drug testing in the years McNamee said he gavesteroids to Clemens) and characterized McNamee as a "troubled man"pressured by the feds. Last Saturday, though, Pettitte verified that he usedHGH in 2002 to help recover from elbow tendinitis, just as McNamee had toldMitchell.
Roger Clemens is astudent of baseball history. As he neared 300 career wins and then grew histotal to 354, becoming the winningest pitcher alive, he would read up on thepitchers he passed on the list. Sometimes the Yankees' public relationsdepartment would hang a photo in his locker of the next dead pitcher he wasabout to pass. The statistics of the game connect generations seamlessly.
Until now. Untiltoo many players—given unchecked access to drugs that made them bigger andbetter—disconnected their generation from the baseball mainland. They arestatistical defectors.
Clemens, forinstance, was 6--6 with a 3.27 ERA with the 1998 Blue Jays when he came homefrom a trip to Florida that, according to the report, included a visit to thehome of Jose Canseco, a former teammate who in 2002 would admit to being asteroid user. After that trip, McNamee told Mitchell, Clemens asked him for hishelp injecting steroids. For the rest of the season Clemens went 14--0 with a2.29 ERA. The Mitchell Report renders his 354 wins no more believable thanBonds's 762 homers.
The winningestpitcher alive, the alltime home run champion (Bonds), the closer with thegreatest streak without a blown save (Gagné)...all disconnected. From 1995through 2004 as many MVP awards (10) were won by players connected by theMitchell Report to drug use as not. What will we make of this island ofstatistical misfits?
The rest of it iseasier to figure out. Congress, in front of whom Selig and Fehr will appearnext month, will make sure that the drug-testing program takes a leap forward.HGH, detectable only by a blood test (which the union steadfastly has refusedto permit), remains a problem either until a reliable urine-based test isdeveloped or the union shifts its stance. Neither of those options appearimminent.
The bargainingrelationship between the commissioner's office and union has been harmed, butthat's the cost of moving forward. That cost can be minimized if Selig canadmit some culpability and if Fehr can crib from the reaction of named playerssuch as F.P. Santangelo, Gary Bennett, Chad Allen and Adam Piatt and admitcheating happened, and move on.
Managementofficials will have to be increasingly vigilant and vocal about hiringpractices, clubhouse access and the integrity of the game.
More scandals maystill break; Mitchell made reference in his report to an ongoing "lawenforcement investigation" involving a performance-enhancing drug supplier.MLB is cooperating.
But the legaciesof the players? Damaged severely, though only time can reveal how permanent isthe harm. Selig will never apply asterisks because he knows they are tooproblematic and because he knows that we, the public, already have done so withour own unofficial stigmas. The Hall of Fame awkwardly has evolved into a kindof imprimatur of legitimacy, not just greatness, and the likes of Mark McGwire,Bonds and Clemens will need the prevailing winds to change if they hope ever tobe welcomed there.
Baseball can bebetter for Mitchell's looking through that keyhole, better anyway than if ithad kept turning away. In a particularly important passage of clarity, Mitchellwrote, "The minority of players who used such substances were wrong. Theyviolated federal law and baseball policy, and they distorted the fairness ofcompetition by trying to gain an unfair advantage over the majority of playerswho followed the law and the rules." That such a truth needed to be said atall defines the darkness of the times.
Q & A
Read L. Jon Wertheim's interview with GeorgeMitchell.
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