Mitchell Report

After the release of the Mitchell Report, I’ve seen a few columns pointing out some of the weaknesses of it.

One, that it is too weak and lacking in hard evidence, and two, that because of this, it is tarring the good names of some players forever, so they shouldn’t have named names, and three, that hearsay evidence such as that given by Brian McNamee about Roger Clemens is not believable because it can’t be independently verified.

And four, that nothing is really going to change as a result of any of it.

I remain unmoved by these criticisms. Of course, I’m no lawyer, and I don’t pretend to be, but …

(1) Is the report weak and lacking in hard evidence? Yes, to a degree. But it is a report issued for Major League Baseball, under the constraints of the owners’ agreement with the players’ union. George Mitchell did not have the power to empanel a grand jury, or threaten jail time. All he really had to work with was provided by the Federal investigations into BALCO and Kurt Radomski and Allied Pharmacy.

To the extent that people in baseball were ensnared in those investigations and needed to be seen as cooperative, Mitchell had power over them. Other than that, nada.

So what exactly were these critics expecting? A sting, set up by Mitchell? Video surveillance? Outfitting a trainer with a wire?

How is it possible to obtain hard evidence in such circumstances, when you can’t even force players to come in for an “interview”? Not an interrogation, an “interview”. Sounds a little too much like lemonade in the shade at the tennis club, if you ask me.

(2) Did the report name some players without solid, irrefutable proof? Yes. See above. Would those charges hold up in a court of law? Not likely. Does that matter to fans and interested observers? Probably not. Why should it?

Baseball is not the United States of America, and fans are not juries bound by legal limits. We don’t really know what went on, do we? Only the players whose names were in the report can say for sure, and they aren’t talking unless encouraged to do so by the Feds. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and all that.

What we do know, or at least think we know, is that something has happened to skew performance numbers in a big way over the last 15-20 years. Reputations are already tarred. Baseball had to do something, and this is the best it could do.

And if somebody like Brian Roberts gets named, with weak evidence, well, so what? It’s not like he’s going to jail. Somebody claimed he did something, and because of the hysteria in sports about PEDs, it became national news.  (UPDATE: a few days later, he admitted using one time.)

Well, maybe if the union hadn’t fought this for so long, it never would have reached this point, and there would have been no need to name the names in the first place. Maybe if ownership hadn’t been counting cash and looking the other way all these years, ditto. And we all know the criticisms of Bud Selig’s office in this area.

So this is what happens. A problem that undermines the integrity of the game, and the trust of the fan, is swept under the rug by those who have the power to do something about it. Someday it catches up with them. Egg on everybody’s face. The End.

(3) Is Brian McNamee’s hearsay evidence about Clemens trustworthy? Hard to tell. We don’t know the guy, and we don’t know why he might want to give up this info, or make it up, or whatever. I’ll have to review the report again for the details.

But, seriously, are you freaking kidding me? Clemens is FORTY FIVE YEARS OLD, still a power pitcher. He suddenly found a rejuvenated career at age 34-5.

And as we all know, that happens to power pitchers all the time. Totally expected. He just works out super hard, ya know. ‘Cuz nobody ever thought of that before.

Yep, no reason to suspect anything odd here. And if his trainer claims to have helped him inject steroids, well, he must be lying!

(4) Is anything going to change? Probably not. But maybe it will. And the cost of doing nothing was probably higher. So you do what you can, and you move forward.

Performance enhancing drugs are here to stay. Athletes use designer drugs that are designed to defeat the current state of the art of drug testing. As the tests advance, so do the drugs. Rinse, repeat. It’s a big poker game, with very high stakes. And because of those high stakes, it is a little bit naive to think you’re going to eliminate it as an influence.

But anything you can do to reduce it is an unqualified good. And so you do what is possible today, and change the conditions slowly to make it even more possible to do more tomorrow.

This is how progress works.

So to sum up, maybe I’m wrong about some legal details, but I don’t see it as a legal issue, really. The legal stuff is for the Feds and their various prosecutions, and people will end up in jail or paying big fines or both as a result. These drugs, after all, are illegal without a prescription.

In the baseball world, while there are surely legal issues to deal with, it’s primarily a PR issue, especially to the fans; and it should be to baseball owners, the commissioner, and the players’ union, too.

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