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Cleaning Up Baseball: Further Thoughts On The Mitchell Report

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I spent a couple of hours yesterday reading the entire Mitchell Report, and I commend each and every one of you to do the same, because you will surely have a different perspective after you do. I also commend you to this article by former major league pitcher C. J. Nitkowski, in which he gives some very honest and up-front thoughts on Brian McNamee, the trainer who gave Sen. Mitchell information on many players he supplied with steroids, and why he (Nitkowski) eventually decided not to do them himself. (Hat tip for that link: MLBTR)

Andy Pettitte's revelation that he took human growth hormone briefly in 2002 (and kudos to Pettitte for coming forward and telling the truth), supposedly to help him heal from an injury, also prompts me to post some further thoughts on the massive, 400-plus-page work (keep in mind when you sit down to plow through it that about one-quarter of those pages are references and photocopies of various documents).

"The List", which we here, and the MSM, were so breathlessly interested in on Thursday, is the least interesting part of the report. Further, the incorrect list posted that morning -- and the supposedly correct list that I posted later that day, which still had wrong names on it -- caused trouble for many mentioned in error, including Albert Pujols:

On Thursday evening, Pujols' agents issued a statement on his behalf.

"It has come to my attention that several national and local news outlets have published false reports that associated my name with the Mitchell Report. I have never disrespected, nor cheated the game of baseball and knew without a doubt that my name would not be mentioned in the official investigation," Pujols statement read. "I would like to express how upset and disappointed I am over the reckless reporting that took place this morning. It has caused me and my family a lot of senseless aggravation due to their inaccurate information.

"What concerns me, is the effect this has had on my family and that my character and values have now been questioned due to the media's lack of accuracy in their reporting. I have never had a problem with the media when they do their job correctly, whether it is positive or negative -- just as long as they report truthfully.

"I would like to thank my fans for their continued support and never doubting my integrity. God has blessed me and allowed me to play a game that I would never take for granted."

This is exactly right. Once again, I am going to apologize for posting wrong names, and for giving in to the impulse to see, "Who's on it? Who's on it?" This is human nature; but it winds up being a case of "not being able to see the forest for the trees".

The report is in three sections. It begins with a short history of drug and steroid use in baseball, going back to the 1970's The second part is the one we've dissected already: the list of players who were investigated. About virtually every one of the players, except for a couple who voluntarily came forward and some who were mandated to talk to Sen. Mitchell because they now work for MLB teams in management, Mitchell wrote:

In order to provide [player name] with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me: he declined.
The third part is the summary, conclusions and recommendations that Mitchell makes to fix this problem.

I'll let you read the entire report for the recommendations, which are sweeping and, if even some of them are adopted, will at least begin to help clean up this mess. The bottom lines are, to my mind, these:

  • A lot of players who started doing steroids and other PED's did so "because everyone else was doing it", and they apparently felt that if they didn't do so, they'd be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Major league players, are looked up to and emulated by kids, including high school athletes. You can have a reasonable argument about whether kids should be doing this, but one result of that admiration is this: some of those young athletes began doing steroids in the 1980's and 1990's; this practice is extremely dangerous to their health.
  • The commissioner's office, by pretending there wasn't a problem, and the MLBPA, by stonewalling virtually every attempt to make meaningful change (up to 2005), are equally culpable.
Jeff Kent, who wasn't investigated and, according to the report, has never spoken to or met Mitchell, was quoted on page four of the introduction, and I think has a really good handle on what this report is all about, from a September newspaper article quoted in the Mitchell Report:
Major League Baseball is trying to investigate the past so they can fix the future.
Kent is exactly right. It's very unlikely that anyone mentioned in this report will be punished, and I think that's the right call. Many of the players named are no longer active, and some of the incidents mentioned are many years past. But what needs to be done is for management and players to sit down together, acknowledge that wrongs have been done by both, and at least begin to do some of the things that Sen. Mitchell recommended in the report. As Mitchell concluded:
From my experience in Northern Ireland, I learned that letting go of the past and looking to the future is a very hard but necessary step toward dealing with an ongoing problem. That is what baseball now needs.
Will there always be cheaters? Yes, there will; that's also human nature -- everyone who's in a competitive endeavor of any kind wants to get a competitive edge, to beat out those with whom he or she is competing. But baseball owes it to its own people -- and to we the fans, who pay the freight -- to at least try to level the playing field, and to show us that talent, not chemistry, makes for winning players and teams.