Commissioner of Baseball and fan of the game
Friday, December 14, 2007
Sound and Fury
The Mitchell Report was released yesterday and with it a firestorm of controversy has arisen. The report names names, most prominently Roger Clemens, and lays out a plan for addressing the abuse of PED's in baseball. Overall the report was a well intentioned effort to try and address the problems of PED's, but I think it missed the mark on more than a couple of points.
First of all Mitchell mentioned that the players, the union and the Commissioner's office were all to blame for this problem. While that is true, he forgot to mention another party that was implicit in this scandal. The owners are just as much to blame for this as the other parties that were named. It couldn't be because Mitchell is part owner of the Red Sox, could it? I've always thought that Mitchell wasn't impartial enough to head this assignment. The owners knew what was going on, but all they cared about was how much money they were making. And now according to this report they are blameless??? And what about the Red Sox team? According to this report over 10 former or current Yankees were abusers of PED's, but only one Red Sox player was named. Roger Clemens is named, but the alleged abuse only took place after he had already left the team. So according to the report, the Yankees World Series run was fueled by steroids. The Internet is already burning up with Red Sox fans talking about how the Yankees wins are invalid because they had steroid users on their team. I wrote about this when the investigation was first announced and I stick by everything I said then. A report by an INDEPENDENT investigator would have been much more welcome than one by a baseball insider, regardless of their credentials.
Bud Selig responded that he would take action based on this report and said that has already taken steps to implement some of the recommendations laid out in the report. So after all this time and money has been spent has baseball really learned anything that they didn't know before this started? Here's a quote from something I wrote a while back in June about what the investigation would discover:
If you're in a giving mood, you can send me the $2 million you were going to spend on the commission next month. Alright are you ready, here goes. Steroid use was widespread and rampant during the 90's and early 00's. That's it.
And that really is all they have. For the tens of millions of dollars that was spent to produce that impressive 300+ page document, did they really find out anything more than that? Bud Selig knew this before the investigation, but at yesterday's press conference, he acted as though he was shocked by what was contained in the report. Immediate action needs to be taken, he said. I'll handle each infraction on a case by case basis, he proclaimed. What a bunch of bullshit! How he can now stand there and pretend that his eyes have just now been opened to this is simply amazing to me. There is no definitive proof in the document. None that would stand up in a court of law anyway. Maybe he knows a couple more names than he did before but to think that this report is somehow the font of all knowledge about PED abuse in baseball is almost laughable.
Now we get to the players named. I feel the worst for Brian Roberts, who was included in the report based on the fact that someone reported that he told them once that he took steroids. That's the entire basis for his inclusion. That's just wrong. I realize that this is not a legal document, but to sully someones reputation on evidence as flimsy as that is reprehensible. The players for whom documentation exists (cancelled checks, mailing labels, etc.), really have no defense to these charges. They chose to associate with (and write checks to) people who were involved in the illegal distribution of PED's and so they are paying the cost for that. That being said, I think that it's unfortunate that anyone was named in this report. It's very clear that the first hand testimony was mainly limited to two people with ties to the New York area. That leaves 92% of the country basically unaccounted for. If the report wasn't going to be all inclusive, then it should have included no one. Some of the most prominent alleged cheaters, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro (although since he tested positive, I guess I can remove the "alleged" tag), Brady Anderson, Albert Belle, Brett Boone, to name a few, were not accused in this report. Is it fair to claim that you are releasing a wide sweeping report on PED abuse and then name less than 10% of the people that actually bought the drugs? Besides Mitchell's lack of impartiality, I find this to be the greatest failing of the report. I understand that his sources were limited, but why chose to include names, when he knew that the list is far from complete? Did he think that these two NY based informants were the backbone of the PED industry in the United States? Clearly that can't be the case. Releasing names was a mistake and one that will in the long run produce the most damage.
Roger Clemens has long been the poster boy for all that is good about the game of baseball. His legendary training regiment has been marvelled at for years. His record 7 Cy Young Awards and 350+ wins, 4,000+ strikeouts have led many to consider him not only the greatest pitcher of his era, but perhaps the greatest of all time. He may have indeed gotten 100% of the vote when he became eligible for the Hall of Fame. That all changed yesterday. The accusations made by his former trainer yesterday were the most detailed of any of the charges leveled against anyone except Barry Bonds. His career after leaving the Red Sox and turning 34 (an age at which a lot of pitchers begin to see a decline in skills) is almost the match of Barry's amazing post 35 career. If anything he has been able to maintain his incredible skills for a longer time than Barry has. Barry won 4 MVP awards and finished 2nd once, Roger won 4 Cy Young awards and finished 3rd once. However Barry won his last MVP at age 39, while Roger won his last Cy Young award at the age of 41 (he finished 3rd at the age of 42). Why didn't baseball fans question Clemens' performance the way they did Barry's? Was it because he's White? Was it because Barry's an insufferable prick? Was it because unlike Barry, he actually had people on his team and in the press who actually liked and admired him? I'm sure it's a combination of all those things. Also while he arguably had the best seasons of his career after turning 34, they were not out of scale with what he had accomplished in the past. However in the four years prior to turning 34, he won a total of 40 games. In the two years after leaving the Red Sox he won 41 games. That's pretty much a quantum leap, but no one questioned it.
The allegations against Clemens will go unproven. There are no pictures of Clemens getting shot up with steroids, there are no cancelled checks (we would have seen them yesterday if they existed). All we have is the word of his former trainer, who really would have no reason to lie. Bonds has admitted to unknowingly taking steroids and has been raked over the coals by the fans and the press (and by me on various occasions). He will have his day in court to defend his position. Clemens isn't going to get a day in court. This is not a criminal investigation and his only legal recourse would be sue baseball for libel. The problem being that libel (slanderous statements in print) carries a very high burden of proof. Basically it would have to be proven that George Mitchell (or whomever was ultimately responsible for the report being printed) knowingly included statements that they knew were false and would do harm to Clemens' reputation. I've already stated that I think that inclusion of names was wrong, but I don't think that George Mitchell or anyone else associated with the investigation knowingly included false statements in the report. Therefore Clemens is in an impossible position. He has already denied the report, but he basically has no other recourse. There are going to be people who believe he did steroids regardless of his denials. His name will always be associated with steroids in baseball and his legacy will forever be stained in the eyes of some.
Is baseball better off today than it was yesterday? I'm not sure. Besides ruining the reputation of a few baseball players, I'm not sure anything more was accomplished with the release of the Mitchell Report. I'm going to end by including something that I wrote a while back. It's a fictional letter from Bud Selig to baseball fans. I still think that this would have been the best and cleanest way for baseball to proceed. It's unfortunate that we find ourselves where we are today, but it was basically inevitable from the day this investigation was announced. The truth is that players will always look for an edge. Today's steroids will be tomorrow's blood enhancers and next decades genetic alteration. It will never end and the sad truth is that the Mitchell Report won't help at all.
To our fans,
Steroid abuse was widespread in baseball for a period of about 10 years. While we heard the whispers of this abuse, we (meaning management and the commissioners office) chose not to investigate this matter any further. The fact that the players union refused to allow us to put steroids on the banned substances list also played a big part in that decision. It is clear now that mistakes were made over that time, by the players, by the coaches, by the union, by the owners and by my own office. We apologize to the fans of baseball for our part in allowing the steroid abuse to take place. We could have done more to make sure that the integrity of the game was preserved.
We have now taken steps to ensure that this does not happen in the future. We have the toughest steroid penalties in North American sports and our testing program is among the most thorough of any sport. There is still no reliable test for Human Growth Hormone (HGH), but I assure that we are working towards eliminating all performance enhancing drugs from our sport. We appreciate your patience and continued support. Baseball is still the greatest game ever invented and we hope that the focus of attention can return to what's going on the field as opposed to the court room. Thank you once again for being such great fans of this game.
Commissioner of Baseball and fan of the game