Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell's Silver Hammer

Well, the hammer dropped earlier this afternoon as former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell released his long-anticipated report. Contrary to Bob McCown's claim on Prime Time Sports a couple days ago, the report named far more than the dozen or so players he predicted. Several prominent players who there had been little prior conclusive evidence on were included in the report, including Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Miguel Tejada, and Andy Pettitte. On the Jays' side, important names included Troy Glaus (to no one's surprise) and Gregg Zaun (to the surprise of some).

Many have argued that this report's value is minimal. However, I disagree. For one thing, it gave some solid backing to the widespread nature of steroids in the game, as the Globe's Jeff Blair commented on The Score.

"This issue clearly goes beyond hitters," Blair said. "The fact that they came out with the names of three prominent pitchers—Clemens, Pettitte, and Gagne—sort of gives lie to the myth that only home run hitters were involved."

Blair also said it's important that the report mentioned players at every level of ability, not only the superstars. "You have guys who had great careers and probably used the stuff to extend those careers, and at the other end of the spectrum, you've got guys who, quite frankly, probably wouldn't have had major-league careers if they hadn't used the stuff. It really does show how deep this problem was in baseball. It touched every team, and every talent level as well."

Mitchell himself described the importance of this in the report.
"The players for whom evidence has been gathered of possession or use, or both,
of illegal performance enhancing substances defy categorization," he said. "They include winners of Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, members of All-Star teams and World Series rosters, players whose tenures in the major leagues were long, and others whose tenures were brief. We heard often about the pressure on marginal players to use performance enhancing substances because they believed they needed to do so to keep up with the competition or because the money was so much greater for those who could make the jump to the major leagues."

The impressive nature of many of those implicated also draws the attention. As the Globe pointed out, seven MVPs and 31 all-stars were named in the report. In fact, there was an all-star named at every position, so you could put together a "Juice Team." As Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Association said in an interview on Prime Time Sports today, catching the marquee players is important. "Some of the big names, and the real stars, I think the attention should be focused on that," he said. "There are other things as well, but take a look at the names."

Another interesting part of the report was how many active players were implicated (85 in all). In addition to the ones already mentioned, such names as Paul Lo Duca made their way on to the list (the Jays are probably quite happy not to have signed him now). There's solid documentary evidence for all of the names listed, with many copies of signed cheques to former Mets' clubhouse assistant Kirk Radomski and damning direct testimony about many players' involvement. Commissioner Bud Selig, in a press conference this afternoon, said that dealing with the active players implicated is one of the three key steps baseball will take in response to the report. "I'm going to review [Mitchell's] findings, and the factual support for those findings, and punishment will be delivered on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Also noteworthy in the report were the steroid links of several former players currently involved with the game in managerial roles, such as Tim Laker, or with the media, such as F.P. Santangelo. Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of this will be what effect this has on their careers. I think Sportsnet may be a little leery of inviting Gregg Zaun to return as an analyst next playoffs (of course, in an ideal world for Toronto fans, this would be a moot point as the Jays would be in the playoffs).

Many, including the esteemed Stephen Brunt, have criticized the Mitchell Report for a variety of reasons, including not going far enough in its quest to uncover those who used performance-enhancing drugs. This is perhaps a fair criticism: despite the All-Star roster named in the report, it did only scratch the surface of steroid use in baseball. However, as Mitchell himself wrote in the report, it wasn't possible for him to uncover the name of every user.

"This report, the product of an intensive investigation, describes how and why this
problem emerged," he wrote. "We identify some of the players who were caught up in the drive to gain a competitive advantage through the illegal use of these substances. Other investigations will no doubt turn up more names and fill in more details, but that is unlikely to significantly alter the description of baseball’s “steroids era,” as set forth in this report. From hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents we learned enough to accurately describe that era."

The description of this era that Mitchell provides is very relevant. Many estimates, included in the report, showcase the depth of the problem. As Mitchell wrote, "In 2002, former National League Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti estimated that 'at least half' of major league players were using anabolic steroids. Dave McKay, a longtime coach for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland Athletics, estimated that at one time 30% of players were using them. Within the past week, the former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jack Armstrong estimated that between 20% and 30% of players in his era, 1988 to 1994, were using large doses of steroids while an even higher percentage of players were using lower, maintenance doses of steroids." Mitchell mentions that he wasn't able to verify any of these estimates, but the matter that the 85 names that were mentioned in the report were drawn primarily from only a few sources and avenues of inquiry suggests that there are far more names lurking beneath the surface. As Fan 590 legal analyst Rob Becker commented on Prime Time Sports today, "You gotta figure that if Mitchell had had access to more sources, there would have been a bigger number of players." It's impressive that Mitchell was able to get his investigation as far as he did, especially considering that the majority of players he approached refused to talk to him. The recalcitrant nature of the Players' Association in relation to this report says a lot about which side of the steroid divide they come down on. They're not alone, though: as several interesting letter and e-mail exchanges included in the report, particularly those between Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and scout Mark Delpiano over Eric Gagne's steroid history (p. 267 of the report), the clubs were certainly aware and possibly complicit in what was going on, and Commissioner Selig either knew or should have known.

Unlike Brunt and Jeff Blair, I don't think that the next logical step is to give up on further searches into the game's torrid steroid past. Perhaps it's my investigative reporting instincts, but to me, it seems odd to be satisfied with something that is clearly only scratching the surface. Brunt's piece, in fact, bases many of its criticisms on this point. This doesn't undervalue the report: it's a solid piece of work that contributes a lot to our understanding of this era, but it itself shows that there is much more that could be found.

Blair argues that this should slam the door on the whole issue. "Here's hoping Selig is merely playing to the cameras before yet another appearance before a U.S. congressional subcommittee next week, because his next move ought to be to shut the door and say enough's enough," he said. "It's over. Let the records stand, forgo the piffle about asterisks and let fans and everybody else make what they want of the steroid era." In my mind, though, this is doing a big disservice to the players of this era who didn't give into the steroid craze. They've suffered the most, and their clean accomplishments should not only be removed from any taint of suspicion, but the cheating of everyone else should be outed as well to increase the value of what they were able to do without resorting to performance-enhancing drugs.

Obviously, it will be difficult if not impossible to find all of those who cheated, but the effort needs to be made, and the clean players of this era need to be differentiated from the dirty ones. As Frank Thomas said, the impact of these users affects everyone else in the game. "I do feel I was overshadowed by some of those guys," he said. "I had a diminished-skills clause written in after I hit 29 home runs and drove in 92 RBIs, and I think those (steroid-aided home run hitters) are partly to blame." Interestingly enough, Thomas was the only current player to be specifically cited by Mitchell in his list of "those whose views and information were very helpful" (p. 367 of the report, thanks to Stoten for spotting this). Former Jays' catcher Darrin Fletcher also took a stand in favour of the report and further investigation into baseball's past on The Score today. "I think this is just the evolution of the cleaning of the game," he said, adding that players are starting to catch on to the risks involved with performance-enhancing drugs. "It ain't worth it being caught up in this: now your whole reputation's shot."

Mitchell's report also offers some good reputations on the path to move forward. The recommendations offered are great, for the most part. I particularly like the suggestion to establish a Department of Investigations reporting directly to the commissioner. The names in this report and the evidence gathered against them show the efficiency of this tactic: many players were found who never failed a drug test. This kind of investigation will likely prove the only way to root out those using Human Growth Hormone and other designer steroids where testing procedures haven't yet been established.

Overall, I see this report as a beginning, not an end. It opens the door for further investigation and offers several tantalizing threads for various bodies looking into the matter to pull. Hopefully, commissioner Bud Selig will take a strong stand in the ongoing battle against performance-enhancing drugs, an arena he was noticably absent from for much of his career. His comments at his own press conference today were positive for those who want to see the game cleaned up. Referring to Mitchell's investigation, Selig said, "His report is a call for action, and I will act." Let's hope Selig follows through, and that the Mitchell Report is only the the pre-wash stage in the long cycle of cleaning up baseball.

Other discussions and articles on the report:

- Neate Sager on Gregg Zaun's inclusion
- The Globe's James Christie on the inclusion of prominent pitchers like Clemens
- A Globe piece by Robert MacLeod on Paul Godfrey being "somewhat disappointed" by the inclusion of Zaun and Glaus
- Todd Devlin of The 500 Level on the report and its Jays connections, including Clemens
- A good take over at Drunk Jays Fans

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