What a day, huh? With the Mitchell report ready to released at 2 PM, speculation abounded.
the rumors started with Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of his era. Barry Bonds, the best position player of his era, had already been implicated. Then seemingly plausible but ultimately spurious reports poured in.
The end result? Apparently, everyone who played after Mike Schmidt retired used steroids or some other performance enhancer. Some of the greatest players in the game were among them: Albert Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Pudge Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa.
The only problem was that when anticlimactic actual report came out, none of them were on it. What was on the list were a few "surprises" (though even fewer really surprised) like Clemens along with a laundry list of players who were already implicated in steroid use.
The more that one delves into the report the less one finds. Sure, there are the personal checks and UPS stubs to and from players plus the odd memo on Dodger Stadium letterhead, but the problems with the report start with the rather voluminous title, "REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER OF BASEBALL OF AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO THE ILLEGAL USE OF STEROIDS AND OTHER PERFORMANCE ENHANCING SUBSTANCES BY PLAYERS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL", the implication being that the investigators could somehow divine which cases of steroid use were legal and which were not. The 409-page report never even mentions what legal uses there might be. I know that steroids can be found in the most innocuous of medications. My kids take a medication for their eczema that contains a steroid.
But that's a bit picky. The real problem in the report is far more broad and far-reaching, and Mitchell points to it early in the report, on page SR-7:
The Players Association was largely uncooperative. (1) It rejected totally my requests for relevant documents. (2) It permitted one interview with its executive director, Donald Fehr; my request for an interview with its chief operating officer, Gene Orza, was refused. (3) It refused my request to interview the director of the Montreal laboratory that analyzes drug tests under baseball's drug program but permitted her to provide me with a letter addressing a limited number of issues. (4) I sent a memorandum to every active player in Major League Baseball encouraging each player to contact me or my staff if he had any relevant information. The Players Association sent out a companion memorandum that effectively discouraged players from cooperating. Not one player contacted me in response to my memorandum. (5) I received allegations of the illegal possession or use of performance enhancing substances by a number of current players. Through their representative, the Players Association, I asked each of them to meet with me so that I could provide them with information about the allegations and give them a chance to respond. Almost without exception they declined to meet or talk with me.
Methinks he dost protest a bit too much. I cannot blame the players for not talking to him. How could that be to their advantage? But aside from leaving Mitchell to consider his snarky comments, it really just serves to require Mitchell to rely very heavily on two sources, the information from the BALCO case and that of a former trainer, Kirk Radomski, as part of his plea bargain. Radomski led Micthell to the few surprises on the list like Clemens and Andy Pettitte.
Mitchell then prattles on about why we shouldn't feed steroids to our children an how steroid use by professional athletes sets a bad example for our youth and for the "clean" players. Next, he makes sure to assert that the ever-porous baseball drug policy has made sure to ban the bad stuff:
Many have asserted that steroids and other performance enhancing substances were not banned in Major League Baseball before the 2002 Basic Agreement. This is not accurate. Beginning in 1971 and continuing today, Major League Baseball's drug policy has prohibited the use of any prescription medication without a valid prescription.
And he then continues to snark at the Players Union: "ut the effect of the Players Association's opposition was to delay the adoption of mandatory random drug testing in Major League Baseball for nearly 20 years." Twenty years? Really? We're talking about maybe one CBA, right? And Mitchell goes on to say that MLB didn't really even pursue it that vehemently:
The Players Association did not agree to the proposal. Officials of the Players Association said that the clubs did not appear to regard the 1994 proposal as a high priority and did not pursue its adoption vigorously. Indeed, Players Association executive director Donald M. Fehr recalled that the proposal never even reached the main bargaining table during negotiations.
So where does it leave us? MLB gets to at least start to close the book on the so-called "steroid era" and has a supposedly independent researcher supporting their future actions. A few big names get their legacy tarnished. The already infamous list paints all players involved with broad brush.
Brian Roberts becomes the Buck Weaver of the group. His crime seems to have been proximity. He went to a lunch after which steroids were sold even though Roberts was no longer present. He lived in a house with players who used steroids. And a teammate, Larry Bigbie, claimed that Roberts told him he used steroids once or twice (p. 150).
Bud Selig, in his press conference later in the day, left the door open to disciplining the players on the list. I expect some token suspensions or fines, but the union won't allow them to use this report as the sole source of evidence. Bonds and Clemens will probably be left to fade into history. Billy Beane expressed some interest in Bonds but I am sure that Selig will use his channels to dissuade him.
The report gets John McCain and congress off MLB's back and ultimately lets them turn the page on this chapter, which is what I believe was the goal in the entire procedure. As far as I am concerned, it might have been a dog and pony show, but if this report does help get us past the steroid crisis, I am all for it.