Year after Mitchell Report, MLB tries to move on
NEW YORK -- Headlines about steroids are down, and so are home runs.
One year later, the stigma of the Mitchell Report has worn off for most players and baseball is convinced it has moved on. But has there been a permanent change, with less reliance on big boppers and greater focus on small ball, the kind played by the AL champion Tampa Bay Rays?
"I think it definitely has something to do with it," said former 20-game winner Dave Stewart, now a player agent.
Released last Dec. 13, the 409-page report on drugs in baseball by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell cited seven MVPs, 31 All-Stars and about 85 players to differing degrees.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig accepted Mitchell's recommendation not to discipline players for past transgressions. Among the current and former stars, only the cases of Barry Bonds Roger Clemens still pop up in the news -- primarily because they maintain their innocence and their cases linger in the federal courts.
"How it turns out for each individual is a consequence of what their response was," Mitchell said in an interview last month.
It may be too early to determine whether the Mitchell Report changed the sport.
Home runs per game peaked at 2.34 in 2000. Now, they have declined for the third consecutive season and were down to 2.01, the lowest level since 1993. Is the shift related to the Mitchell Report and increased drug testing?
Mitchell thought it was too early to "make sweeping judgments of that type."
"I don't know the answer to that question and I will wait to see what happens," he said.
In baseball, team executives and agents always are tying to discern trends from statistics. Whether greater testing and fewer home runs are linked is a hot topic.
"Like almost everything in the sport, there are multiple reasons for things, and I would think that that might be one of them," Baltimore Orioles president Andy MacPhail said. "You can't draw all these broad conclusions based on one year's of data. But it's started, so let's see how it goes."
San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers thinks testing has eased the process of evaluating trades and free agents.
"You kind of know what you're buying now," he said. "We're on an equal playing field, where it wasn't the case two and three years ago. Entering into multimillion-dollar negotiations on free-agent players not knowing if they were using or not, it's a scary business. Each and every year I think we're getting better and better."
With Clemens and Bonds giving dominant performances well into their 40s, there was a belief in the game that changes in training and diet had made it possible for players to remain active longer. Now, many baseball executives aren't so sure.
"We'll also see if there's a change in how long players play," Detroit Tigers president Dave Dombrowski said.
The average age of major leaguers each April has held steady at between 29 and 30 for the past decade, according the commissioner's office.
Perhaps the lasting impact of Mitchell's report will be his recommendation that Major League Baseball start an investigative wing. The new unit, headed by Dan Mullin and George Hanna, launched investigations relating to skimming of contract bonuses and gambling in addition to its drug responsibilities.
The Chicago White Sox fired director of player personnel David Wilder along with two scouts in the club's Latin American operations in May following the start of MLB's probe. And in August, the Yankees terminated the contracts of Carlos Rios, their director of Latin American scouting, and Ramon Valdivia, their Dominican Republic scouting director.
In July, Baltimore fired a scout after the unit linked him to a gambling investigation by New York police. The unit also uncovered evidence that Atlanta prospect Jordan Schafer used human growth hormone, which led to a suspension.
Mitchell and Selig speak repeatedly for the need to remain vigilant, mindful that new designer drugs most likely will surface. Will baseball need a major investigation periodically to keep up?
"I think that's a premature judgment. I don't think anyone can say now that you ought to do this every five or 10 years," Mitchell said. "My hope is frankly that it will not be necessary."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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