George Mitchell (Associated Press)
So the Mitchell Report has finally come and gone.
But I can’t keep from asking myself, is this what Bud Selig had in mind when he decided to hire the former Senator to begin his investigation a year-and-a-half ago?
First off, Mitchell was certainly not easy on the Commissioner, or any other owners for that matter, either. Considering Selig's signature will appear on Mitchell’s paycheck for his diligent work, there has been great skepticism about the potential conflict of interest resulting from their relationship. But he certainly did not give anyone a pass, even calling out Selig for denying that he had any idea about drug use prior to the historic home run chase back in 1998.
But more disappointing, however, the report did nothing to satisfy the common sports fans’ quench for the real truth or help restore any faith in Major League Baseball. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mitchell’s team did not provide any real closure to the steroid era. All his discoveries did, with some shaky information included, was add uncertainty and question marks to how people will view the past 15 years of the nation’s pastime in future generations. The naming of players from all skill levels, present and past – small infielders like Chuck Knoblauch to a vast number of forgettable pitchers – may change the way some fans view the steroid era. To me, though, dragging someone like former Philadelphia Phillies' spark plug Lenny Dykstra through the mud does not derive any real benefit.
One thing is certain. The report showed that a couple of individuals, more than backed into a corner, were willing to testify against their former colleagues. Former New York Mets’ clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, the key to Mitchell’s entire investigation, is the prime example.
The mentioning of certain names in this report, in some cases solely as the result of one witnesses’ testimony, inconcrete evidence and even hearsay, could scar some of the included players’ images forever. Roberts, a former American League All-Star is the perfect example. With a number of mere, simple allegations included in the lengthy report, did Mitchell really prove anything that eye-popping?
Take Roberts’ situation, for example. The Senator's decision to include the Baltimore Orioles’ infielder in the report, after obtaining information about his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs solely through a vague past account by former outfielder and his roommate, Larry Bigbie, only improves any argument for someone trying to shoot down the credibility of the report.
Any serious student of the game has known about the rampant steroid use in Major League Baseball for years, especially after the release of The Game of Shadows and Jose Canseco’s telling account in his book Juiced. So, again, did we really need a noble politician from Maine to tell us all that?
It has also been clear for some time that the solution to this issue will only result from improved steroid testing policies, featuring greater penalties for offenders. Stricter guidelines implemented over the past have already proved this, reducing the prevalence of certain performance-enhancing drugs in the game during the last two seasons. To address the problem even more drastically, fully restoring the integrity of the sport in the process, has more to do with discovering new, innovative ways to test for PEDs. Coming up with a urine test for HGH, for example, is perhaps the true guiding force behind a complete eradication of performance-enhancing drugs from the game. With these potential solutions well-known long before Mitchell began his research, was looking back at the past, especially using such circumstantial evidence, really necessary?
Sure, some of the recommendations made by the Senator and his staff could help alleviate some of the underlying issues here. But the Mitchell Report is now just going to ignite a war between the Players' Association and Selig in the coming months. We knew this may happen, too, as well as Mitchell’s struggles of getting players to cooperate, which have been well documented for the entire duration of his efforts. Seriously, though, with no law enforcement or real threats, why would a member of the baseball brethren rat out a former teammate? The findings in his report, scamp if you exclude Radomski and some of his associate’s willingness to talk, enhanced this notion.
As Senator Mitchell mentioned himself in his press conference earlier this afternoon, without the cooperation of more players, there is absolutely no way to uncover the actual truth of which players were and were not clean from 1990 on, fair or not. It is more likely for Hillary Clinton to become an advocate for “Reagonomics” as the solution for how to improve the United States economy than the possibility that a good portion of big leaguers will ever testify against their fellow players in the future. This means that it is only going to become exceedingly difficult to objectively judge a player’s accolades from the 1990s. From earned run averages to home run totals, VORP to OPS, how can a baseball fan distinguish what numbers are actually legit?
When thinking about a player’s attributes for entering the Hall of Fame, such as Roger Clemens, who, along with workout partner Andy Pettitte, was one of the most high profile players mentioned in the report, how big of a role should his alleged steroid use play in a voter’s decision to grant him permission into Cooperstown?
The fact of the matter is, we will never know to the full extent the full implications of steroid use in the past era, but the users known to the public “did not act in a vacuum,” as Mitchell adamantly stated, period. This means that any future Hall Candidate who hit more than 40 homers from 1988 on will be looked at with strict scrutiny when they are eligible for the Hall. But if it was so common to use steroids, then, when voters consider electing players who were head and shoulders statistics-wise above the rest of their peers in their era, is it really beneficial to punish them? In the future a Hall of Fame-caliber player and drug user who never tested positive, yet simply avoided getting caught for steroid use will undoubtedly get elected to baseball’s most prestigious residence, to the justified ignorance of the voters' committee. And if they will not be penalized, where do you draw the line?
Due to the lack of proof, with the players’ refusal to testify expected to last forever, let the war begin. Instead of getting the closure Selig hoped for, his decision to hire Mitchell may have just prompted a lengthy battle between the immensely skilled lawyers working for the players' association and Major League Baseball, which could rage on for some time. Personally, my previous opinions on steroids were not really altered, and depending on how one judges what factors determine whether or not Mitchell’s work was a success, I can safely say that some Major League Baseball executives probably have some regrets on how this played out. Moving forward, as Mitchell and Selig both believe as the true goal of the release of the report, with too much information unsaid, will be more difficult than they might think.