Commentary

Friction and fractures erode faith in Mitchell's investigation

Originally Published: December 11, 2007
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

With the highly anticipated Mitchell report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball expected to be released within the coming days, scores of baseball employees who were interviewed by former Sen. George Mitchell's investigators said that the inquiry has been critically hampered by investigative missteps, Mitchell's close personal ties in the industry and the longstanding fracture between baseball's owners and players' union. These baseball insiders offer an unprecedented and unfiltered view of the 20-month investigation.

Club executives are nervous that Mitchell will be unsparing in his assessment of their role in enabling the game's steroid culture, while team trainers and strength coaches feel the Mitchell team explicitly pressured them to "guess" about steroid use by specific players. The aim, say trainers and strength coaches, was to produce a report heavy on high-profile names but low on solutions.

The concerns regarding the investigation, these sources say, raise the level of intrigue and anxiety about what Mitchell ultimately will reveal. If he produces a powerful, comprehensive report, they believe these anxieties can be assuaged. But if the report fails to reach that standard, they say it will be clear that the obstacles the investigation encountered from its start were impossible to overcome. Accompanying that intrigue -- and perhaps because of that intrigue -- is a sense that not only will Mitchell's document fail to please everyone, it might fail to please anyone. If that happens, the report -- instead of providing an endpoint to baseball's steroids era -- will instead serve as another example of the game's inability to come to terms with the issue.

George Mitchell
AP Photo/Mary AltafferAt the start 20 months ago, many people looked to George Mitchell and his investigation as the best chance for baseball to come to grips with its drug problem.
Over the past several months, ESPN.com attempted to retrace the steps of Mitchell's investigators, conducting interviews with team employees at levels ranging from clubhouse assistants to team presidents, key figures outside baseball such as former athletic trainers and strength coaches, as well as U.S. congressmen and their staff members. The Web site also spoke with MLB Players Association and management officials, and dozens of players over the course of the past baseball season. Fearing disciplinary action from their superiors, the team employees requested anonymity.

Citing consistency with other news outlets, Mitchell declined requests for in-person and telephone interviews with ESPN.com. But over the past three weeks, he agreed to on-the-record e-mail interviews.

Mitchell announced last month that the information-gathering phase of the investigation is complete. His coming report, perhaps the most highly anticipated document in the history of the sport, culminates a controversial inquiry that began in March 2006. For many, the Mitchell investigation at the outset represented the game's greatest opportunity to reconcile with a generation of altered baseball records while diminishing its public -- although not its financial -- standing.

Proponents say the report, unprecedented by an American sports league, could serve as a lasting document that can restore the game's moral credibility and will burnish the legacy of a commissioner whose league's towering financial achievements have been paralleled by an equally devastating drug culture during his tenure. On the same day the U.S. Justice Department indicted home run king Barry Bonds on four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice, Bud Selig announced that baseball generated a record-breaking $6 billion in revenue this season.

But dozens of employees from nearly half of the 30 major league teams interviewed by ESPN.com said they found themselves conflicted at the end of the process. Many said they originally believed in the necessity of an investigation. Indeed, a number of team employees said they have been frustrated for years that their concerns regarding performance-enhancing drugs were ignored, and expressed enthusiasm that the game's leadership at last seemed to be taking the issue seriously. But because of problems they believe have severely undermined the investigation, a number of sources inside baseball said they are now less optimistic.

Mitchell faced a major obstacle from the start: He had no subpoena power or other leverage to compel players to participate. The MLB Players Association, led by Donald Fehr and Gene Orza, said it never ordered or even suggested that its players not cooperate; but of the 750 players in the major leagues, none has been identified as having spoken voluntarily to Mitchell's investigators. It is unknown if any players broke ranks and privately spoke with Mitchell.

"We have committed to take this thing as far as it can go, all the cards on the table," a source in the commissioner's office said in September. "It was what everybody wanted us to do. Everybody said we were hiding things, so we did it. Sen. Mitchell has the authority to talk to anybody he likes. We haven't stood in the way. But you have to understand you're not dealing with one entity here. You're dealing with two; and for the entire time of this investigation, that other entity has been completely and totally uncooperative. You have to take that into account."

New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, who commented on his admitted steroids use to USA Today in May, met with Mitchell's staff in July. But Giambi agreed to the meeting under threat of disciplinary action from Selig if he didn't. In September, Giambi said the paper had misquoted him, but he saw no point in fighting the commissioner's office.

During the season, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and Indians pitcher Paul Byrd spoke to league officials after they were implicated in a criminal steroid and growth hormone investigation. It is not known if those players were interviewed by Mitchell's staff. Retired first baseman David Segui, who admitted to using human growth hormone with a prescription and told The Baltimore Sun he'd used steroids, said he refused to talk with Mitchell.

The players' refusal to be interviewed put Mitchell in the middle of the 40-year battle between the owners and the union. Sources said the players' unwillingness to cooperate produced a crushing domino effect on the other groups targeted for interviews by investigators. Short on access and information, Mitchell's investigators aggressively pressured team trainers, managers and strength coaches to speculate about players and their possible use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Paul Byrd
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJust before Game 7 of the ALCS between Cleveland and Boston, Indians' pitcher Paul Byrd tried to explain his purchase of HGH. Some question the timing of the leak.
The teams' general managers, too, felt pressured by questions that led them to believe the Mitchell report will judge them harshly for condoning widespread drug use by not bringing it to the attention of club owners and baseball's central office. That, they acquiesced, is an unfortunate but real byproduct of the enormous demands placed on player evaluators to win games in a billion-dollar business.

"If this thing comes out and pins everything on us, which is what I think will happen, then every GM in baseball should sue baseball," one general manager said over the summer. "It's not going to happen, but this report is going to be total B.S. It's going to blame us for everything, because we don't have anyone in our corner. The owners aren't going to blame themselves, are they?"

Other issues in the inquiry were a series of miscalculations in strategy by the game's top leadership and a lack of understanding of the game's clubhouse culture by Mitchell and his investigators. Sources interviewed by investigators told ESPN.com that neither Mitchell nor Selig anticipated the degree to which Mitchell's complicated relationships with baseball, including his position and compensation from the Red Sox, affected the confidence level of team executives. Many baseball executives view those relationships as conflicts of interest that should have disqualified Mitchell from heading the investigation. A number of team officials expressed concern that Mitchell used his law firm, DLA Piper, as well as a member of the former law firm of baseball president Bob DuPuy, Selig's second in command, to conduct the field investigation.

Some sources indicated they do not believe Mitchell will have the fortitude to hold team owners and the commissioner's office accountable.

"They had nothing"

During the investigation's information-gathering stage, Mitchell would not discuss his methodology, other than to say "hundreds" of interviews were conducted. He refused to disclose the number of field investigators who conducted interviews, but sources said they believe the number to be between 12 and 15. Without cooperation from the players, investigators targeted three groups: the commissioner's office staff, team employees, and knowledgeable sources outside the game. They broke the team employee group into subsets based on job description, such as front office, traveling secretaries, clubhouse managers, clubhouse attendants, team trainers and strength coaches.

It isn't clear how Mitchell determined who would and would not be interviewed. For example, while it was widely believed that each of the 30 general managers was interviewed, scouts, front office special assistants and farm directors were not all asked to interview. It is also unclear if owners of individual teams were interviewed.

According to sources, Mitchell requested removable media -- computer hard drives, for example -- from some departments of each of the 30 teams, while also requesting cell phone and e-mail records from some individuals. Some teams, such as the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics, complied. Others, such as Minnesota and Cleveland, were among the more reluctant to cooperate with Mitchell's requests, sources said.

Mitchell's relationship with the players' association was uneasy; to a large degree, sources said baseball's union has been kept out of the loop on the report. The union was told in March 2006 that Selig planned to open an investigation, which union leadership considered to be something of a betrayal. The union believed it had already cooperated with Selig to an unprecedented level by agreeing twice -- in 2004 and again in 2005 -- to amend the existing collective bargaining agreement to strengthen baseball's drug testing program.

"There were no ground rules. There were no rules," a union source said. "There was no due process. It was a unilateral decision. They said that this was what they were going to do and they did it."

Donald Fehr
Add the Mitchell investigation to the catalogue of items on which Donald Fehr, right, and Bud Selig don't see eye to eye.
Mitchell's request for medical data on players became a major point of contention, especially regarding the results of survey drug tests done in 2003. About 7 percent -- roughly 50 players, or nearly two per team on average -- tested positive for steroids that year. Management and the players agreed in collective bargaining that those results were to be kept confidential, but Mitchell wanted them. It is unclear if he has those results and plans to include them in his report.

"If they're talking about naming names," said a source with expertise in handling drug samples, "you'd have to assume they have them."

The early union-management crossfire caught former players who are now coaches or managers. According to sources, Mitchell wanted to interview them under the same conditions as off-the-field club employees. But as former players, these managers and coaches were once members of the union and, thus, could make the point that they should have access to union representation during their interviews if they chose. Mitchell reluctantly agreed, but then did not tell the union in advance who was to be interviewed. In response, union officials sent out a mass e-mail alert to former players that they were entitled to have a union lawyer sit in on their interviews. The sparring only created more tension.

There were some concessions to the players' association. Sources said the Mitchell group agreed that, during interviews, investigators would refrain from asking questions about amphetamines, which arguably don't carry the same performance-enhancing properties that steroids and human growth hormone do.

According to sources, union officials have requested advance warning before the report is released, but Mitchell has been noncommittal. Other sources said Selig has been assured he will see the report at least 24 hours before its release.

Receiving no cooperation from players and lacking subpoena power, Mitchell's investigators began forming a piecemeal road map using other prominent sources both in and outside the game. Investigators sought outspoken figures in baseball such as San Diego general manager Kevin Towers. They approached authors and writers who have written extensively about steroids over the previous 10 years, as well as critics of the steroids era such as Larry Starr, the former Cincinnati Reds and Florida Marlins trainer who worked in baseball for decades. Investigators also contacted Curtis Wenzlaff, a former steroids dealer who was caught in an FBI operation.

Jose Canseco, whose 2005 book, "Juiced," prompted the seminal March 17, 2005, congressional hearings, told ESPN.com last week that he has not been contacted by Mitchell. The New York Daily News reported in July 2006 that Canseco had met with Mitchell's investigation team.

Soon, it became clear to investigators that, like the players, some of the clubs weren't particularly interested in participating, either. Selig's office sent letters to each of the 30 teams almost as soon as the commissioner announced the investigation's creation, ordering them to comply with Mitchell's requests. Many team employees -- especially the support staff, strength coaches and trainers -- regarded that approach as a threat to their job security.

It also angered some of the clubs that they -- and not the commissioner's office that empowered Mitchell in the first place -- were expected to be responsible for paying whatever legal costs might arise from formal action taken as a result of the report's findings.

The relationship between Mitchell and federal authorities also made club officials uneasy and furthered the tension between the union and Selig. The government built a case against former New York Mets employee Kirk Radomski, who pleaded guilty to steroid distribution in April. Radomski, according to federal prosecutors, sold steroids to dozens of players from 1995 to 2005. The government is making the case that he became the key supplier of anabolic substances to baseball players following the elimination of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative near San Francisco. As part of his plea bargain, Radomski agreed to assist Mitchell's investigation. He is to be sentenced in February.

According to team sources, clubs felt discomfort with the communication between Mitchell and the government involving both Radomski and, possibly, the district attorney's office in Albany, N.Y., which is prosecuting alleged illegal Internet drug sales. It was one thing, some team lawyers believed, to be forced to cooperate in an investigation that didn't include the players, but quite another if teams were providing information to Mitchell that might be used in criminal cases.

The investigation was stagnant, sources said, until Radomski's information breathed life into it. With some of the government's information behind them, Mitchell's investigators became emboldened, and the result was a snowball rolling downhill. The inquiry was particularly aggressive in dealing with trainers, strength coaches and clubhouse managers.

"We were the only place they could apply the pressure, because nobody cares about us," said one National League strength coach interviewed by Mitchell's investigators in 2006. "You know how easy it would be to find somebody to replace us, to find some college trainer to work in Major League Baseball? They had nothing."

Conflicted

Mitchell was named director of the Boston Red Sox in late December 2001, immediately following the purchase of the team by the partnership of John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner. In 2002, the team's first media guide under the Henry group listed Mitchell sixth on a seven-person executive masthead, above legal counsel Lucinda Treat and below only the three owners and vice chairmen Leslie Otten and David Ginsburg.

It was not the first time Mitchell would have a financial stake in a baseball team. At the same time he joined the Red Sox, Mitchell was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the Anaheim Angels and eventual 2002 World Series champions. Mitchell was chairman of the board of Disney, parent company of ESPN, from 2004-06.

But from the beginning, the Red Sox sale was a particularly sensitive issue for Selig. The commissioner was accused of engineering the $660 million Red Sox transaction to the Henry group, while various other competitors to buy the Red Sox, such as HBO and CableVision founder Charles Dolan, believed the Henry group's bid had not been the highest. Dolan reportedly believed he had outbid Henry by nearly $100 million, and a bid by Miles Prentice was said to be the highest, at $755 million. Selig denied any involvement in managing the sale of the team or that he favored Henry, who had owned the Florida Marlins, or Werner, who endured a turbulent experience as owner of the San Diego Padres during the early 1990s when baseball was embroiled in a rift between large- and small-market franchises. Selig, who was fond of Werner, watched the bitterly divided owners push Werner out of the game in 1993 and told him he would run a team again one day.

[+] EnlargeBud Selig
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesDid Bud Selig under-estimate the impact of questions about Mitchell's independence?
In the days following the sale, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced an investigation of the transaction on the grounds that the Yawkey Trust, the charitable foundation that held the team following the 1992 death of Jean Yawkey, was entitled to the highest bid. Reilly threatened a lawsuit against the Red Sox and Major League Baseball, depending on his findings. The Boston Globe, which holds a 17-percent stake in the Red Sox through its ownership by the New York Times Company, referred to Henry's purchase as "a bag job." The Boston Herald called the sale, "the fix." Ultimately, Reilly did not take legal action after the Henry ownership group agreed to increase its charitable contribution to the Yawkey Trust.

Tapping Mitchell, a Red Sox director, to lead the investigation furthered suspicions around baseball that the Red Sox might be treated more favorably in his report than the other clubs. That issue came to the forefront when word leaked just before the pivotal Game 6 of October's ALCS between Cleveland and Boston, won by the Red Sox, that Indians pitcher Paul Byrd had purchased human growth hormone. A day later, Mitchell released a statement denying any involvement in the Byrd leak.

"It doesn't make a difference what they say," an American League source said regarding Mitchell. "He's one of them."

Selig and the baseball establishment believe that because of the high-profile nature of the steroids investigation, Mitchell has nearly as much riding on his ability to produce a powerful, respected document as Selig. Maintaining his hard-earned reputation alone, Selig often said during the summer, is reason enough for Mitchell to keep his relationship with the Red Sox from undermining the investigation.

"It didn't come from Mitchell," a league source said of the Byrd leak. "It's ridiculous. Does anybody think that George Mitchell would risk everything he's built over his career just to help the Red Sox win a game?"

While much of the emphasis regarding steroid use has focused on West Coast teams such as Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego, three players who admitted to using steroids -- Canseco, Jeremy Giambi and Paxton Crawford -- spent time with the Red Sox. Another, the former American League MVP Mo Vaughn, admitted that in 1998 he used Pro-HGH, an oral form of human growth hormone. In 2000, Boston police found steroids and syringes in a car owned by shortstop Manny Alexander that had been loaned to the team batboy.

According to sources in both the American and National Leagues who have been interviewed by Mitchell's investigators, Selig's refusal to consider Mitchell as a potentially polarizing figure was a major gamble by the commissioner. Because of Mitchell's accomplished background, Selig apparently believed Mitchell would be accepted as an honorable, ethical choice by the baseball establishment; and as such, Mitchell could overcome whatever perceptions existed of his possible conflicts of interest.

"When we first thought about doing this, we talked to many, many people," Selig said in Denver before Game 4 of the World Series. "And everyone we talked to told us you couldn't find a better man than George Mitchell. He has the respect of everyone. He is a man of integrity and we believed he was the best choice for the job."

Indeed, Mitchell amassed his impressive credentials in the years before and after he was first elected to the Senate in 1980. He served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1989 until 1995, and is widely credited with brokering peace in Northern Ireland in 1998. Mitchell was a judge and prosecutor in his home state of Maine during the 1970s, served with distinction in Congress in the years following and worked periodically with baseball and other sports. He investigated a bid-rigging scandal before the Salt Lake City Olympics, and he has at times been considered a candidate to succeed Selig as commissioner of baseball.

In 2000, Mitchell served on, and was the spokesman for, the Commissioner's Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics. Introduced as an independent analysis, the document was widely viewed as a confirmation of ownership's stated -- and often challenged -- position that its teams were losing money. Also on the four-member panel was George Will, who was on the boards of both the San Diego Padres and the Baltimore Orioles at the time.

[+] EnlargeBoston Red Sox owners
AP Photo/Mike MergenWhen the new owners of the Red Sox were introduced to Boston in December 2001, George Mitchell, left, stood with them.
For the four years leading up to his role with the current steroids inquiry -- from 2002 to 2006 -- Mitchell was being paid by the Red Sox. During the course of his investigation, Mitchell hasn't been able to avoid the suspicions aroused by that fact. At times, such as two occasions in which the New York Times published reports that claimed Mitchell's directorship contained an equity stake in the Red Sox, Mitchell fought back.

In a Nov. 27 e-mail interview with ESPN.com, Mitchell said, "I do not have, and have never had, any equity interest whatsoever in the Red Sox, past, present, or future. I will not make any money if the Red Sox are sold. This incorrect allegation first appeared in a column in the New York Times on April 1, 2006. When informed that it was incorrect, the Times printed a retraction on April 5, 2006. However, the same allegation appeared in an article in the New York Times on October 23, 2007, and was again retracted by the Times the next day. In its correction on October 24, 2007, the Times accurately stated that Senator Mitchell 'does not [have] future equity rights and, if the team were sold, he would not receive part of the sale proceeds.'"

But Mitchell's point represented to many a distinction without a difference. He might not have been a part owner, but he was being paid by the Red Sox before the investigation was announced. And as it turns out, he apparently will be back on the team's payroll when the inquiry is concluded.

Mitchell had no comment regarding his Red Sox salary; but John Clarke, a spokesman for DLA Piper, the law firm conducting the investigation for Mitchell, sought to clarify Mitchell's position.

"Senator Mitchell and the Red Sox have agreed that he would not provide advice to the Red Sox owners until this investigation is completed and he would not receive any compensation from the team. That is the current situation," Clarke wrote in a Nov. 30 e-mail to ESPN.com. "It is the expectation of the Senator and the Red Sox that he will resume his previous role after the completion of the investigation."

In an e-mail exchange with ESPN.com, Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president, suggested that he wanted Mitchell to return at the conclusion of the investigation as a paid member of the franchise.

"The title of director is an honorary one, and Senator Mitchell is not engaged in any advisory activities with the Red Sox. He has received no compensation from the Red Sox organization, or its related entities, during this investigation," Lucchino wrote, also on Nov. 30. "In that all formal votes of NESV, LLC (the Red Sox parent entity) are weighted on the basis of equity, Senator Mitchell's position was a nonvoting position. At the conclusion of the investigation, it is our hope and expectation that Senator Mitchell will return to the Red Sox in his previous advisory role."

George Mitchell and Bud Selig
AP Photo/Mary AltafferAt the March 30, 2006, press conference to announce that Mitchell would lead an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs, Selig said, "Nothing is more important to me than the integrity of the game of baseball."
Clarke and Lucchino both said Mitchell's return to the Red Sox following the investigation includes a return to the payroll. One general manager said that he did not believe Mitchell would implicate a high-profile Red Sox player in his report.

While Mitchell is on the record that he does not and did not own an interest in the Red Sox, he did not readily disclose that the Red Sox paid him for four years. Nor does a role as a paid advisor seem to fit Lucchino's description of Mitchell's directorship as "honorary," which might suggest the position is unpaid.

Some members of the baseball establishment indicated to ESPN.com that neither Mitchell nor Selig have seemed willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of their concerns about Mitchell as the investigation unfolded.

"Did he get a ring?" asked one team executive about Mitchell following Boston's World Series sweep of Colorado. "The kids who park cars at Fenway Park got rings, so you have to think he'll get one."

In late November, Mitchell told ESPN.com that his connection with the Red Sox frustrated his ability to gain the trust of some of the clubs.

"Unfortunately, the truth has never caught up with the allegation, which has been repeated in several articles around the country," he wrote in an e-mail. "As a result . . . it 'was a constant point of contention.' I can do nothing other than to restate the truth: The allegation is simply not true."

From the beginning, Mitchell didn't seem to embrace the need for a higher degree of transparency. At the news conference with Selig to announce the investigation on March 30, 2006, Mitchell said, "I do not intend to resign from the Red Sox. I don't believe there is any reason for me to do so. If, in any way, anyone associated with the Red Sox is implicated, they will be treated like anyone else."

Once, before a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park this spring, Mitchell sat in the home dugout, wearing a Red Sox cap and jacket, obtaining autographs for his son. To Mitchell's embarrassment, Ken Davidoff, the baseball writer for Newsday, published the story. Davidoff's story gained little traction, but the incident might be the most emblematic moment of Mitchell's dilemma.

"They expected everyone to believe what they say, but they didn't do anything real to change anybody's mind. It was just his word," one general manager said of Mitchell and his investigators. "They think everybody is stupid. They really do."

Compromised

"The athletic trainer," one baseball trainer said he told one of Mitchell's investigators, "is the most compromised individual" in professional sports. Another American League trainer said he told an investigator, "Our job is not to make players healthy. Our job is to get them healthy enough to play. That's a big difference."

Even under normal circumstances, the tension between trainers and players can be high during the season. Players often believe the medical staff doesn't care about their injuries as much as they care about the pennant.

Numerous trainers and strength coaches, the ones closest to the front lines of baseball's steroid crisis, welcomed their participation in the investigation as an opportunity to educate the Mitchell people, as well as the public and the baseball leadership, regarding performance-enhancing drugs. Strength coaches, in particular, understand the need for players to perform and stay healthy. They know the pressure players sometimes feel to increase their size and strength. Some told ESPN.com they sympathize with players who believe are at a disadvantage if they aren't using steroids.

Jose Canseco
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonJose Canseco, author of "Juiced," played for the Red Sox in 1995 and '96. He said he hasn't been contacted by Mitchell's investigators.
But strength coaches also understand and respect competition. Unchecked steroid use, several of them said, has robbed players of their sense of fairness; and for that reason, some thought the Mitchell investigation could do some good. The game, in their view, took a step in the right direction when it recently eliminated access to clubhouses and weight facilities for the personal trainers of star players, a practice that might have helped attract free agents but also created a potential steroid pipeline directly into the 30 major league clubhouses. Many strength coaches said they went into their interviews with a guarded sense of optimism that the inquiry would take the pressures of the baseball culture into effect.

Selig has established a strong relationship with many team trainers. He was the first and only member of the baseball hierarchy, one trainer said, to employ an "open door policy" for the trainers. When a visiting team travels to Milwaukee, where Selig keeps an office, the commissioner often makes himself available to listen to their concerns. Strength coaches, who rank below trainers in baseball's unofficial hierarchy, aren't offered the same courtesy by Selig.

But a combination of factors -- players stonewalling the investigation, and the information from Radomski -- increased pressure on Mitchell to produce a blockbuster document instead of one that was simply educational. Expecting their interviews with the investigators to be solution-oriented, at least in part, many strength coaches said they discovered instead that only one thing seemed to matter to the questioners: the names of players that the coaches thought were using steroids.

One coach said he recalled an investigator asking him outright to guess.

"The problem was, what did they want us to say?" said a team trainer who was interviewed by Mitchell's investigators in 2006. "They wanted us to speculate. And I wouldn't do that. They wanted me to say who I thought was using steroids. And when I said, 'I don't know,' they would say, 'Well, you work most closely with these guys. You work on their bodies every day. You weren't the least bit suspicious when you saw their bodies change?'

"This was the kind of stuff I was most afraid of, because they didn't ask me about specific people with specific information that they had. They asked me to guess. I said my guess was no guess at all, because what would happen to me if I said a guy was using steroids who wasn't? What if I guessed wrong? Then my name is out there, I get fired, and I'm easily replaceable."

As the investigation unfolded, the interviews took on a consistent shape. Those present, in addition to the interviewee, included one to three of Mitchell's investigators, a team attorney and, according to some sources, a representative from Major League Baseball. Interviewees were told they could have a private attorney present. According to sources, the interviewers read from a prepared script, and investigators offered little in terms of follow-up questions. It is unclear if any of the interviews were taped.

As ESPN.com spoke with baseball people interviewed during the investigation, a common theme emerged: Investigators, while generally cordial, often revealed an alarming lack of knowledge regarding the day-to-day workings of baseball. Instead of focusing on the elements of the game that might make drug use appealing, investigators asked surface-level questions such as which players suffer from back acne and who underwent the most dramatic body changes. One interviewer, for example, read off a list of players and asked the interviewee to say if he believed the player could have used steroids. No questions were asked, the source said, about the root causes of steroid use.

"They didn't ask us those things because they didn't have the level of sophistication about what we do," said a National League strength coach. "They didn't know the right questions to ask. At no point in my interview did anyone say to me, 'What can we recommend to make sure this never happens again?'"

According to one manager's account of his interview, the questions were pedestrian, almost na´ve. Sometimes, he said, the exchanges were heated.

"I didn't go in there with a lawyer because I didn't have anything to hide," the manager said. "They asked me if I'd ever seen anyone do steroids. I said no. They asked me how I thought the players' bodies got so big, and I said the players were in the weight room day and night, so it made sense to me. Then he said to me, 'Well, don't you know that steroids combined with weightlifting can make you even bigger?' He said it to me like I was dumb, so I said, 'No, I didn't know that.'"

Larry Lucchino
AP Photo/Morry GashLarry Lucchino, president and CEO of the Red Sox, said Mitchell will return to the franchise when the investigation is complete.
Some of the interviewees expressed a concern that a league representative sat in on the interviews, because it suggested to them that their disclosures -- or lack of disclosure -- could cost them their jobs. They feared reprisal for noncooperation; trainers and strength coaches said they faced a $100,000 fine or termination for failing to cooperate with the investigation.

To some, the presence of an MLB official in the interviews also called into question Mitchell's independence, although Selig's spokesman, Richard Levin, told ESPN.com that no representative from the commissioner's office was present for any interviews. However, Levin acknowledged that Thomas Carlucci, an early member of the Mitchell team and consultant to Major League Baseball, sat in on random interviews. As Mitchell does, Carlucci also has preexisting ties to baseball. He is an attorney with Foley and Lardner, formerly the law firm of current baseball president DuPuy. Selig has long been a client of the Milwaukee-based firm.

"We conducted hundreds of interviews, and at many of them no MLB representative was present," said Clarke, the DLA Piper spokesperson. "MLB lawyers were present for interviews of the commissioner and his staff and for interviews of club employees."

One clubhouse employee told ESPN.com that during his tense interview, Mitchell's investigators reminded him that he was "obligated" under Selig's mandate to cooperate. Three months later, the team's lawyer received a letter from the Mitchell commission citing the trainer for being "uncooperative" and "defensive." It is not known whether anyone was fined by the league's office for being uncooperative.

In another session, according to a source, Mitchell's investigators entered an interview with bookmarked, dog-eared copies of well-known books on the steroids era, and asked one trainer to explain the allegations that exist in those books.

"They asked us how players could have had drugs in the clubhouse without our knowledge," one trainer said. "Some of the stuff was the stupidest stuff you'd ever heard. They'd just asked the wrong questions, and you'd walk out of that interview room with a smile on your face because you knew they didn't know what to ask. Somebody should have told them that a shipment of drugs doesn't have a sticker on top of it that says 'steroids.'"

Other moments underscored the tension of team employees forced to interview with Mitchell's investigators. One clubhouse manager's interview was postponed because the preceding interview ran long.

"I was thinking to myself, 'He's giving all of us up,'" the clubhouse manager said. "Then later I found out the interview took two hours because, after each question, everyone had to leave the room while the lawyers discussed ground rules about what you could and couldn't ask. That was funny, because had they asked me, I could have told them about all the used greenie capsules in the kitchen."

At another point during the investigation, word traveled through the clubhouses that Mitchell had employed an attractive female investigator. After weeks of dealing with middle-aged men in dreary suits, interviewees on one team were jockeying to be interviewed by her.

"Everybody said she was gorgeous," a team employee recalled. "The problem was, the guy who was her partner had spilled jelly all over his shirt but didn't seem to know it. I wish I had a pair of sunglasses that day so I could have kept from laughing at him while staring at her."

Taking the fall

By the summer of 2007, as information-sharing among various team executives grew, league officials said it became apparent Mitchell was being stonewalled at virtually every turn by the players. A number of general managers reached the same conclusion: The investigation appeared to be focusing on their role. Apparently, investigators latched on to the thought that general managers were too concerned with winning to report to their superiors about the drug use taking place in clubhouses around the league.

That perception had gained momentum after Towers testified in 2005 before the House Government Reform Committee that people in his position "all knew" about drug use but said nothing. Former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips, now a baseball analyst for ESPN, said during the same time that a GM's job was too tenuous and too tied to victories for an executive to voice suspicions regarding steroids.

The tone of the investigators, sources said, lent credence to that thought.

"They were upset with me because I didn't know that players might be having drugs sent through the mail," said one baseball executive. "But guess what? It's illegal to open up someone else's mail. The whole thing struck me as more cosmetic, to satisfy the need to say who should have known what to do five years ago. You want to say it's my fault that I should have known what was in that package next to the 20 boxes of sneakers next to the guy's locker? Well, OK, fine."

One general manager interviewed in 2006 with a team attorney present. The interview, the GM said, was brief.

"I remember my interview lasting about 10 minutes," he told ESPN.com. "For me, it was kind of like being interrogated about a bank robbery you didn't commit. I didn't do anything, so I wasn't nervous. I told them I didn't know about steroids. I told them I didn't know what a steroid looked like because I've never seen one. I told them you could line up sugar and cocaine and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. You could put a steroid next to everything you need to bake chocolate chip cookies and I wouldn't know. I didn't have a lawyer present because I didn't need one. If I were Jason Giambi or somebody, I would have had a lawyer."

In an e-mail exchange with ESPN.com, Mitchell said his staff has conducted numerous follow-up sessions since the interview stage of the investigation began in 2006. None of the team employees contacted for this report, however, said they recalled being interviewed a second time. Some of their interviews date back to June 2006. Multiple interviews of individuals employed outside the game, such as with Starr, were conducted. Starr said he was interviewed as many as four times.

Congress

At the 2007 World Series, hours before the Red Sox wrapped up the championship, Selig reminded reporters that Mitchell had been given "a free hand" to come to whatever findings resulted from his research. Mitchell's integrity, Selig said, is partly the reason for his confidence. Another, according to the commissioner, is the looming specter of the U.S. Congress.

"There's no way this report won't have teeth," Selig said. "Because if it reads like a rubber stamp, [Rep.] Henry Waxman will haul our butts down to Washington so fast it will make your head spin."

There is little doubt that fear of Congress, especially after the infamous March 17, 2005, House Government Reform Committee hearings, was a factor in the genesis of the steroid inquiry. Selig banked on Mitchell's esteem to lay to rest the question raised in those hearings: Does baseball possess the stamina and resolve to face up to its culpability for the steroid era?

Rep. Henry Waxman
AP Photo/Susan WalshBaseball insiders expect Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., now the chair of the Government Reform Committee, to pay special attention to Mitchell's report.
For some time, Selig has been wary of Capitol Hill, which at times seems to have relished making an example of baseball. Following Mark McGwire's performance at the 2005 hearings, Waxman, D-Calif., now the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, suggested to Selig during the hearings that perhaps it was time Selig resign.

In 2001, Selig formed a political action committee -- The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball Political Action Committee -- funded primarily by team owners (except the owner of the New York Yankees) to lobby Washington and secure more favorable treatment. Since its inception, Selig's PAC has contributed nearly $500,000 (58 percent to Democratic candidates), according to Federal Election Commission data.

Congress hasn't taken an active role in baseball's steroids issue since March of 2005, in part because of the current investigation. Some members of Congress applauded the selection of Mitchell to head it up. But some congressmen, such as Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., are still angry at McGwire, both for his evasive testimony and his broken promise to assist the committee in raising steroid awareness. McGwire has disappeared from view, and apparently hasn't followed up on a single pledge, at least publicly.

Some of the cracks in the Mitchell investigation's foundation -- Mitchell's inability to compel players to cooperate, for example -- were unavoidable, insiders say. Others were not, including the investigators' lack of familiarity with baseball's locker room and insider culture, and Mitchell's own apparent conflicts of interest.

Over the past 20 months, the investigation has exposed a raw nerve in an already-fractured industry. Now, in the days before its release, the contents of Mitchell's final report remain shrouded in mystery. The question is whether Mitchell's findings will heal or further harden baseball.

"I don't think any good came out of it, because it's all going to damage the game," said one American League trainer about the investigation. "Part of me thinks, OK, they blame the trainers. Then what? Or they blame the GMs. Then what? Or they name players. Then what?

"But the one thing it did is solidify the testing program and make everyone aware. I thought this all should have been done in-house, but it has made everybody accept it more, that there's no going back. Nobody at any level can say they don't know anymore. This is the world, and there's no going back."


Editor's note: While a reporter at The Washington Post, Howard Bryant was contacted in mid-2006 by Mitchell investigators. Bryant, now a senior writer for ESPN.com, declined to be interviewed by Mitchell's staff or cooperate with any facet of their investigation.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.

ESPN.com staff writer Amy K. Nelson also contributed to this report.