Sunday, December 16, 2007

how this is truly the whole truth about the baseball steroids era

of everything i've read about the mitchell report, this article is easily the best to explain how inadequate and unfair it is. and although it wasn't as bad as i thought it would be, it's still pretty much what i feared it would be.

buster olney's article is reprited below, before it becomes an insider that you have to pay for. it's about at smart and concise you'll find about the subject.

Mitchell lacked critical insight
by Buster Olney

After the commissioner's office received access to the report, word leaked out that the Mitchell Report was tough on Major League Baseball; the advance notice was that individuals within the MLB offices were upset, angry. Which is, of course, what Major League Baseball needs everybody to believe: That it really got thumped.

Then George Mitchell stood in front of a microphone and said out loud, "Everybody involved in baseball -- commissioners, club officials, the players association and the players -- shares responsibility to some extent for the Steroids Era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem and deal with it early on." Baseball had a drug culture, Mitchell said, a nice general thesis that was fresh when it was first reported years ago by the San Francisco Chronicle, ESPN, the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and just about every other major news outlet.

But if you expected any critical insight from the report into how that culture developed, well, forget it. Baseball's leaders should send a Christmas basket to Mitchell for the way he glossed over the decisions -- their decisions -- that created the vacuum in which hundreds or even thousands of players, in the majors and minors, felt free, or felt the need, to take drugs.

Oh, sure, Giants general manager Brian Sabean looks awful in anecdotes on pages 122-126 of the report, and union counsel Gene Orza is alleged to have tipped off a player to a forthcoming test. But the report is almost wholly absent of a direct examination and assessment of how the decisions of Don Fehr and Bud Selig led us to where we are today.

We are told of the alleged drug use of 86 players by name, but nothing that addresses almost all of the big-picture questions: Why did baseball not act decisively after the sport's first steroid scandal, around Jose Canseco, during the 1988 World Series? Why did the owners and union leaders do nothing?

In a 1995 article in the Los Angeles Times, Selig made reference to a meeting in which owners discussed steroids. What was said, specifically, in those meetings? What were owners saying about the change in size in bodies? What were they saying about the Athletics of the late '80s, the Reds of 1990, the Rangers of the early '90s, the Phillies of 1993?

We are told that after the noteworthy L.A. Times piece was published in 1995, with quotes addressing the perceived rise of steroid use from Frank Thomas, Tony Gwynn, GMs Randy Smith and Kevin Malone and Selig, there was no follow-up. Why not? What was Selig's thinking? Why didn't he view these words as an alarm in the night? Why didn't he ask Thomas, Gwynn, Malone and Smith about what they knew? Why didn't he do something? Why was it that when Kevin Towers spoke out loud in the spring of 2005 about how executives in the game had known for years about steroid use, he was admonished by baseball executives? Why did Selig issue a public gag order on executives on the issue of steroids?

In fact, there is no mention of Towers' statement in the report. There is virtually no information within the report about the players' union deliberations and conversations about steroids during the mid-'90s. Where was Fehr? Where was Orza? What were they saying and doing? What was being said in the meetings? We understand that the union didn't cooperate with the Mitchell investigators, but there have been many newspaper and magazine stories written about this, and Mitchell could have cut-and-pasted all of this for context, as he did in so many other places in the report.

The commissioner had full autonomy over the minor leagues and could have implemented drug testing at any time. So why did it take 13 years after the Canseco scandal to do so? What were owners saying about all this in meetings? Is it true, as sources indicate, that one owner was so fed up with the union wars that he said, in so many words, If the players want to kill themselves by taking that stuff, then let them. It's not our problem.

We got a whole lot of information about the symptoms of the problem -- the cases of individual players -- but almost nothing about the virus of failed leadership that is the root of baseball's drug culture.

Selig has said that he wanted the report because it would show that he had nothing to hide. But it was, in fact, another example of a lack of leadership, a lack of accountability.

In March of 2006, he could have stood up, perhaps with Fehr at his side, and said: We blew it. The entire institution of baseball shared in this failure to ask the right questions at the right time, and failed to take the right action at the right time. But we could learn the full extent of how pervasive that problem was, so the best thing that we could do would be to strengthen our drug-testing program as much as possible, and move forward.

A number of executives who work for Selig believed, in March of 2006, that a mea culpa was the best action possible for the sport. But Selig has never been someone to admit mistakes. So he hired a baseball executive to investigate the sport, paying Mitchell and his firm tens of millions of dollars -- and the leaders of the sport largely got a pass.

And it's possible that in lieu of Selig standing up and taking the hit for his sport, individual players and the game itself may suffer enormous collateral damage.

None of that excuses the individual decisions that were allegedly made by players. Look, if Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or others took performance-enhancing drugs, then they have to live with the ramifications of their actions.

But it's possible, as Fehr said, that players have had their reputations wrecked forever, and perhaps wrongly.

Mitchell established his own standard of fairness, his own standard of proof. A lawyer within baseball said early this week that because Mitchell had so much power, in deciding which names to include in the report, that he really needed to go on beyond a reasonable doubt in the cases of individual players.

And this, he did not do.

On page 146 of the report, it is written that former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski provided information, and in "many cases, his statements were corroborated by other evidence."

What the report does not say is that in many cases, the statements of Radomski, former Oriole Larry Bigbie and others were not corroborated by other evidence.

Now, we cannot be naïve to the probability that most and perhaps even all of the players named in the report used performance-enhancing drugs, and that the impact of steroid use on the game and the results of games has been nothing short of extraordinary. The belief here has been for some time that perhaps 75 percent of the major awards won from 1988 forward were done so with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and we should assume that championship teams for the last 20 years probably fielded one or more players using the stuff. But Mitchell effectively ignored the possibility that in some cases, Radomski's version of events, or that of Larry Bigbie, might be untrue or inaccurate. If Kirk Radomski says he talked to you about steroids or sold them to you, well, Mitchell's Report embedded Radomski's version of events into history.

Mitchell clearly was frustrated with the lack of cooperation from the active Players Association. But for some former players, challenging Radomski's assertions didn't make a bit of difference: Mitchell went full-speed ahead with the naming of names, in the face of denials, just as he did in the face of silence.

"It was," said one Major League Baseball lawyer, "nothing short of reckless."

Brian Roberts is in the report, on page 158, because Bigbie told the Mitchell investigators that Roberts "admitted to him that he had injected himself once or twice with steroids in 2003."

That's it.

Radomski told investigators that he sold steroids to Matt Franco, and the former Mets player denied this. There is no other evidence. A case of he-said, he-said. And Franco is in the report, on page 165.

Jack Cust is in the report because of a Bigbie interview. Nothing more.
Mark Carreon: Radomski interview, and nothing more.
Todd Williams: Radomski interview.
Phil Hiatt: Radomski interview.
Todd Pratt: Radomski interview.
Mike Stanton: Radomski interview.

In the cases of other players, the corroborative evidence is the fact that a phone number or address is in a book owned by Radomski.

These players could sue, of course; Roger Clemens's lawyer said his client has been "slandered," and he, more than any other player in the report, has the money to go head-to-head with Major League Baseball, which indemnified Mitchell in the event of possible lawsuits.

But that probably isn't going to happen, and in any event, a lawsuit isn't going to change the reality that a player's name is in the Mitchell Report, forever. There's not a damn thing you can do to change that if you are Brian Roberts and you just might be innocent; George Mitchell has already been the prosecutor, judge and jury in his case.

The issue of the Steroids Era is multi-layered, with nobody really clean. For instance: There has never been anything tying pitcher Tom Glavine to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and when his name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot, he will presumably be voted overwhelmingly on the first ballot, as a 300-game winner -- and rightly so. But in the '90s, Glavine was probably in the best position, among all players, to influence the velocity with which the Players Association dealt with the growing problem of steroids, as a leader in the union.

He had been willing to go to the White House in the midst of the players' strike and stand up for the union, but as steroids became more prevalent, he -- like Fehr, like Orza, like Selig -- did little or nothing. In the big picture, his decisions had a lot more practical impact in the rise of the steroid problem than Jason Grimsley or Chuck Knoblauch.

(And as has been written here and elsewhere many times before, I believe I did a lousy job covering this issue in the '90s).

It's true that the problem really started with the players who cheated. They deserve most of the blame, and in the casting of the Mitchell Report, it is the players, generally, who are blamed the most.

But you cannot issue a credible report without fully addressing the actions of the most powerful men in the game, the caretakers of the sport in the '90s: Fehr, Orza, Selig.

A last thought: Baseball executives express their frustration often over the fact that their sport is scrutinized more than any other, at a time when baseball is hardly alone in its struggles to cope with performance-enhancing drug abuse. They've ceded their right to complain about that now, because Selig made the decision to plow ahead with an internal investigation that had no chance of ever providing the full context of the problem, something that the commissioners of the NBA and the NFL have never done.

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