The Mitchell report one year later: picking up the pieces
Two weeks before Christmas 2007, baseball commissioner Bud Selig gambled an estimated $40 million that the Mitchell report -- the massive, 409-page investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, 20 months in the making -- would provide salvation both for him and his sport.The stakes in such an unprecedented move -- no head of an American sports league had ever launched such a high-profile, sweeping probe into its own conduct -- were improbably high. And over the first few days of the report's release, it appeared that Selig had lost. The report was being dismissed in some quarters as damning but incomplete, heavy on press clippings and law-enforcement investigations centered on evidence from former clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski and personal trainer Brian McNamee, but painfully light on new information. The players launched an immediate counterassault against former Sen. George Mitchell, the report's author. David Justice, the former All-Star outfielder, and -- most aggressively -- Roger Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, used their considerable star power to publicly attack Mitchell's methods and the veracity of the information in the report. The players' union criticized the document as horribly one-sided and said Mitchell, who had held the title of director of the Boston Red Sox since 2002, as too conflicted to lead an impartial investigation. The front offices of many of the 30 clubs had never been especially enthusiastic about the report, and were even less so when they learned the commissioner's office had inserted a secret clause that held the clubs responsible for Mitchell's legal fees if baseball were sued over the contents of the report.
On Dec. 13, 2007, George Mitchell stood at a podium at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York to announce the report's release. Ironically, Jose Canseco, one of the most public faces of steroid use, was standing outside the door to the ballroom, denied entry to the press conference. As hundreds of bound copies of the report were being passed through the packed room, Mitchell spoke about baseball's need to look forward, as if he was already attempting to blunt the rising expectations about the report's contents. He offered more than a dozen recommendations that he believed would begin to build a new baseball infrastructure for combating drugs, calling for stronger independent drug testing, better communication, more stringent enforcement avenues, and awareness on the part of a baseball culture that had been feigning ignorance about a runaway drug problem since home runs began flying out of parks at a record pace following the 1994 players strike. Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and a fierce critic of baseball's steroid policies, literally rolled his eyes at the document. To Wadler and many other anti-doping crusaders, few of Mitchell's recommendations seemed original. Why, Wadler wondered, would baseball listen to George Mitchell now when it hadn't listened to any of them since the late 1990s?
If baseball has been inconsistent over the years in presenting a cogent message on the drug issue -- Selig would proclaim ignorance of the issue one day, then claim he was the greatest, earliest champion in the fight against steroids the next -- one strategy has been consistent throughout: When in doubt, blame the union. One lesser-publicized exchange during the infamous 11½-hour congressional hearings in 2005 came after McGwire, Palmeiro, the cameras and many of the journalists had left the room. During the hearing, Selig had attacked the union's reticence to confront steroids; but in this case, the approach backfired. The committee members unleashed a withering scolding of Manfred, who sat inches from Selig, for the apparent loopholes in baseball's drug policy.
DuPuy indicated that baseball took specific disciplinary action in those cases, saying, "My sense is that there was punishment, and the Giants weren't the only ones [punished]."Those were embarrassing moments for Selig, who during the months of the investigation said he'd consulted three of the game's most powerful general managers -- Billy Beane of the A's, Brian Cashman of the Yankees and Epstein -- about steroid use. Selig said he had asked each "point blank" about the scope of the problem, and each said they knew nothing. Yet in the report, the Yankees and A's, and to a lesser extent the Red Sox, were all significantly mentioned as examples of front offices that had suppressed important information about steroids. Perhaps baseball's most powerful statement in the wake of the Mitchell report was its adoption of another of Mitchell's top recommendations: a full-time investigative unit, overseen by DuPuy and independent of the league's security force. The structure resembles the internal affairs division of a police department. According to baseball and congressional sources, the department was created in response to another shortcoming highlighted in the Mitchell report: baseball's lack of cooperation with law-enforcement organizations. According to sources, congressional and law-enforcement agencies had been long frustrated by what they saw as baseball's propensity to react to potential illegalities by blindly defending its product and stonewalling the flow of information. Now, the early returns on the league's 11-member investigative unit are positive. It has already been instrumental in uncovering a scouting-corruption scandal that may send White Sox senior director of player personnel David Wilder, and perhaps others, to prison.
In the end, the league believes it has turned a cultural corner. A climate of fear exists in baseball now that wasn't there before: fear from players who don't want to be associated with a discredited era, and fear from trainers and strength coaches who don't want to lose their jobs by protecting players. On the first day of spring training, one trainer personified the new era by yelling out in the clubhouse: "You guys are on your own now. I'm not losing my career for anybody."Many executives said fear can be a powerful deterrent, and the lack of it -- the absence of accountability -- created many of the elements of the steroid era in the first place.
"Listen," one baseball strength coach said, "There is hypersensitivity to this now. Trust me: You do not want to be the guy who was withholding information from anybody. Does that create a little bit of paranoia? Yes, but I guarantee [that] guys are going to respond to talk about HGH and whatever a lot differently than they did before."
Baseball is cognizant that an offshoot of its recent ban of amphetamines is new and creative ways for players to obtain legal stimulants from doctors, usually by receiving a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But baseball trainers and members of the medical staff said an elaborate tracking system is perhaps the best new addition to the sport's effort to combat drug use. The goal, one member of an American League training staff said, is to create a database of a player's medical history beginning in the minor leagues that would limit the loopholes once he arrives in the major leagues. Over the next 10 years, the source said, the desire is to have the first generation of players who participated in drug testing at every rung of the baseball ladder.Next month, baseball expects to release its final drug-testing results for 2008. The consensus is that the numbers will be lower than they were pre-Mitchell; and if they are, it will be attributable in large part to the attitude change throughout the sport. "We had to finally say we were allowing things to continue that were unacceptable," a club executive said as he walked through the Bellagio, flanked, ironically, by craps tables and slot machines. "Of course, all of this falls apart if your young players, the new breed of stars you're depending on, tests positive for something, or if we go through this again with some new undetectable [drug] we don't know about today and it turns out the GMs and trainers knew but didn't say anything, just like before. But barring that, yes, it was a good year."
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston " He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.
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THE MITCHELL REPORT
A year later• Bryant: From disaster to afterthought
• Quinn: Clemens' losing battles
• Nelson: Strength coaches face conundrum
The Mitchell report• Mitchell delivers his report | Read it (pdf)
• Players: Who's named in the report
• Recommendations from the report
• Report reaction: What they're saying
• Drugs listed in report | The Dope On Steroids
• Evidence may limit Selig's punishment choices
• Mitchell defends naming stars in report
• Owners praise Selig, support extended tenure
• Seligs hopes to finish review by spring
Analysis• Munson: Delay means Congress serious
• Wojciechowski: Rocket's logic fizzles
• Assael: Clemens throws up and in at McNamee
• Munson: Clemens' lawsuit is part propaganda
• Olney: There's one thing Clemens can't change
• Crasnick: A tale of two Rockets on "60 Minutes"
• Neyer: Time to stop behaving like a child
• Bryant: Odds are against Clemens in interview
• Munson Q&A: Clemens, McNamee on the hot seat
• Neyer: Investigate all players
• Wojciechowski: Time for Clemens to speak up
• Neyer: Does HGH enhance performance?
• Hill: Pettitte's apology was a joke
• Stark: Pettitte no different than Pats' Harrison
• Stark: Clemens, Bonds tales similar, yet different
• Bryant: Selig must address steroids era records
• Santangelo admits HGH use; will 'face the music'
• Helyar: Not good for short-term business
• Fish: Baseball's steroids crisis management
• Crasnick: Clemens' Hall of Fame chances?
• Gammons: Drug culture quite slimy
• Hall of Fame voters speak out on Clemens
• Stark: Indelible impact on the game
• Wojciechowski: Thaw needed in cold war
• Bryant: Mitchell report flat without feds
• Fainaru-Wada: Report sheds light on Bonds
• Crasnick: Recently acquired players named
• The man behind Clemens, Pettitte bombshells
• Munson: Legal challenges troublesome
• Fish: Congress reacts quickly to report
• Helyar: Anti-doping experts don't agree on report
• Nelson: Fehr, MLBPA kept in dark on report
• Neyer: Non-surprising names
• Neyer: Scout's telling take on Gagne
More• Mitchell investigation timeline
• Kirk Radomski timeline
• List of suspended MLB players