Mitchell Leaves Bud Blameless

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 19, 2007
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As the media tongues wag incessantly about the names contained in the Mitchell report, the bigger story of what the report fails to address - that the commissioner’s office most likely operated with full knowledge of steroid use among the players - is being lost amid the debate over whether or not Roger Clemens cheated.

This should come as no surprise, as Mitchell did exactly what he was hired to do - that is, to go after players while shielding the league from any real responsibility. True, 16 members of the commissioner’s office were among the 700 people interviewed by the former senator, Red Sox consultant and Florida Marlins board member, but the report makes no conclusion to baseball’s culpability into the whole sordid affair.

Any hope that Mitchell would put the magnifying glass to league leaders was quickly dashed by the 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.

Mitchell’s instructions were quite clear. “On March 30, 2006, the Commissioner of Baseball, Allan H. (“Bud”) Selig, asked me to investigate allegations that a number of players in Major League Baseball had illegally used steroids and other performance enhancing substances.” (Page 13)

While any reasonable person would conclude that an investigation into the drug culture of a business should include a careful look into any involvement by the management of said business, the Mitchell Report carefully stays away from any such indictments. However, evidence within the 409 pages show a pattern of behavior that seems to have existed in every Major League clubhouse that could not have been missed by Selig and other high-ranking members of the league.

Reports of steroid use in baseball began to surface shortly after Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was busted for using steroids to help him win the 100-meter gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. That same year, Jose Canseco was taunted by fans in Boston after speculation in the media first linked the power-hitting outfielder to performance-enhancing drugs. In a Washington Post article, writer Thomas Boswell described Canseco as “the most conspicuous example of a player who has made himself great with steroids.” (p. 109) Boswell made this statement the same year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made their historic - and most likely tainted - assault on the single season home run record.

A year later, Canseco’s assistant, David Valdez, was found with a gun and alleged steroids in his luggage at the Detroit Metro Airport. Valdez said that he admitted to the gun charges to spare Canseco embarrassment about the steroids. He explained that the steroids belonged to him, not Canseco, but Valdez added that he did not know the pills he was carrying were steroids at the time of his arrest. (p.111)

At the time, baseball distanced itself from the growing controversy with a statement saying that “baseball would not investigate Canseco’s possible steroid use because baseball had ‘no information about his usage or the usage of any other player in the major leagues.’” (p.110)

If Selig didn’t know about steroid use in the game, he must have been the only one. While discussing Canseco’s book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, former manager Tony LaRussa told 60 Minutes Wednesday in 2005 that “when Canseco played for Oakland, he ‘would laugh about the time that other guys were spending [in the gym] and how he didn’t have to, because he was, he was doing the other helper. He was having help in a different way. You know, the easy way.’” (p.112)

The report also quotes Dave McKay, an Oakland coach from 1984 to 1995, who told the Toronto Sun, “We had one guy who talked about steroids, and that was Jose ... The most common question I was asked was: ‘I won’t get too big, will I?’” (p.113)

Both men denied their earlier statements when questioned by Mitchell, but the investigator said, “Neither LaRussa nor McKay shared their concerns with the Oakland front office, however.” According to La Russa, “I thought, what’s the use? So I didn’t say anything.” (p.114)

Of course, Canseco wasn’t the only user, and more stories crept to the surface over the next 10 years without much serious action by the league, even though reporters noted the suspicions of such insiders as then-Padres’general manager Randy Smith, Montreal Expos GM Kevin Malone, Reds general manager Jim Bowden and Hall of Fame hitter Tony Gwinn, who the report quotes as calling steroids “the big secret we’re not supposed to talk about.” (p.119)

In 1998, Detroit Tigers pitcher Todd Jones wrote in his column for the Birmingham News about the use of steroids and amphetamines in Major League Baseball, saying, “In my time in the big leagues, I’ve never seen anyone take steroids. But I have seen teammates come to spring training 40 pounds heavier, then tell me: ‘Not me, man, I used creatine.’ Yeah, right!”

Even with this circumstantial evidence, Selig still claimed that “if baseball has a problem, I must say candidly that we were not aware of it ... It certainly hasn’t been talked about much.” (p. 119)

Selig seems to contradict his earlier statement in an article by then Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Nightengale, who reported that the issue had been discussed among the owners at a meeting 18 months earlier and that no one had any evidence that steroid use should be a concern.

Mitchell says, “In some incidents, club personnel did not report evidence to the Commissioner’s Office of a player’s possible involvement with performance enhancing substances but instead simply disposed of the evidence.” (p.134)

This seems like a big risk, considering that since 1991 the league’s drug policy stated that “If any club covers up or fails to disclose to [the Commissioner’s] office any information concerning drug use by a player, the club will be fined in an amount up to $2 million, the highest allowable amount under the Major League Constitution.” Mitchell goes on to say that “many club personnel told us that they were not aware of the policy.” (pgs. 340-341).

This is not to suggest the people Mitchell talked to were lying, but it does make one question how a club could be so careless with a rule that carries such a large fine.

The Mitchell Report is not without merit. The report is an obviously exhaustive look at the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, and the photocopied checks to alleged dealers are quite convincing. The page 64 statement that says, “After the Associated Press reported in August 1998 that Mark McGwire was using androstenedione, a steroid precursor that was legal at the time, sales of that supplement increased by over 1,000 percent” forever puts an end to any questions regarding how the actions of pro athletes filter down to throughout society.

The Mitchell document serves its intended purpose of exposing those who used steroids and how they were obtained.

Unfortunately, it would have been much better if the league conducted on honest investigation and not one designed to protect the commissioner and other league brass.

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