Monday, December 17, 2007


The long awaited Mitchell Report on the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League baseball was released this week, and appears to be an even bigger bucket of whitewash than most fans were expecting.

And although this is a blog primarily devoted to writing and showbiz, what's going on in baseball needs to be seen as the kind of naked bid to hold onto power that permeates our business as well.

Under pressure from the US Congress to clean up its act, a cleansing that might help it hang onto its exemption from Anti-Trust regulations, Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB owners conscripted former Senator George Mitchell to investigate just how wide-spread the use of steroids, Human Growth Hormone and other performance enhancing drugs might be.

That was a bit disingenuous to begin with, since the Commissioner and Owners already knew full well their game was enormously juiced and had either tacitly encouraged or simply turned a blind eye to the practice for 20 years.

But that Anti-trust exemption and convincing Middle America that it's squeaky clean is what makes Baseball owners tons of money. So the decision was apparently made to smear as many players as possible (thus shifting any media focus from management), announce that retribution would be counterproductive (thus avoiding defending its evidence in court), insist the Players Union obstructed them (thus seeking the help of Congress in breaking a troublesome union) and suggesting fans accept past indiscretions (Barry Bonds aside) and just "Play Ball"!

So 86 players were "outed" as users of performance enhancing drugs, MLB's version of sewing a big red "A" to their uniforms, despite the fact that some are barely circumstantially guilty and others took these drugs as part of club or medically supervised treatment for injuries.

Such niceties as "due process" were also ignored by Mitchell as he lumped these guys in with proven or admitted cheaters, so that enough blame could be spread around that none of it would fall on the true enablers of the process, the Owners and the Commissioner.

Now, I've been a victim of gossip and innuendo and I'm here to tell you that it's almost impossible to fight. There are few alternatives when you're faced with a concerted effort to either destroy your reputation or save somebody else's by making you the villain. In my case, things got so bad that when somebody said, "I've heard of you." my response was, "I sure hope it's as juicy as some of the things I've heard."

Perhaps, the lawyer for one of MLB's superstars can best explain what these players now face...

I can't count the number of team owners I heard interviewed over the weekend who went out of their way to describe Senator Mitchell as "respected" or "above reproach", as if saying those things enough times would make them true.

In their stampede to support his report, the owners ignored the fact that their investigator might have used his prerogative to make sure the Boston Red Sox, a team of which he's a sitting Board member, came off as the one least tainted by the scandal.

Sports radio also trotted out Dick Pound, former Olympic drug Czar, current head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the only guy with a better Porn Star name than Tom Cruise, to further drive home the point that athletes cheat and we should all deal with them harshly for their frailties.

I don't have a lot of respect for Dick Pound. First, he spent a good portion of his professional life serving as the respectable face for a horribly corrupt International Olympic Committee, an organization which also certifies dancing around with a ribbon on a stick as a sport.

Dick's also the dick who publicly stated 1 in 3 NHL hockey players were on steroids without a single shred of supporting evidence -- a statement that might have had something to do with the fact that the NHL hadn't awarded WADA its lucrative drug testing contract.

Anyway, the message of the Mitchell Report was clear -- Players bad -- the rest of baseball -- uh, just sitting in the getaway car counting some money.

So now Players like Roger Clemens have to defend themselves against former batboys and trainers who might be saying anything to avoid lengthy jail terms for drug dealing.

Andy Pettitte holds a press conference to say yes he took HGH for 2 days to heal an elbow injury a full three years before Baseball banned the substance, admitting "guilt" while making anyone with a brain ask how 2 doses of still legal HGH could enhance the performance of a guy who wasn't even playing at the time or make someone deserve a public shaming.

Former Boston pitcher Brendan Donnelly, conveniently dumped from the team Mitchell advises 24 hours before the report's release, must defend his reputation not against any tangible proof he took steroids, but against emails between team trainers stating suspicions that he "might be" juicing.

Meanwhile, a player for the Arizona Diamondbacks is named simply because a package addressed to him and containing steroids was sent to the Diamondbacks training facility, with no return address and while he was playing winterball in Venezuela.

I mean, if you were depending on steroids for your onfield performance, wouldn't you have them sent where you are and not the one place that might notice you're ingesting something illegal? And if this is all it takes to prove somebody a miscreant, I've got some shit I can mail Bud Selig that'll permanently sully his ass.

But the personal tragedies set in motion by the report almost pale against some of its absurdities. Jose Canseco, an admitted juicer vilified by the baseball establishment when he published "Juiced" in 2005, is repeatedly footnoted by Mitchell as a now "reliable" source. Even Jose thinks that's a laugh, questioning why Mitchell hasn't named players he accused of doping in his book with far more tangible evidence.

Could it be that Mitchell didn't name Alex Rodriguez because he's the highest paid and current draw for the sport? Did he conveniently forget Mark MacGuire and Sammy Sosa because there are too many pictures of them with Commissioner Bud while their homerun derby was saving baseball and drawing fans by the tens of thousands?

Much easier to repeatedly make the point that all of the named players "refused" to be interviewed by Mitchell, thus implying their obvious guilt. You know what, Sparky, if I knew you were setting out to job me, I wouldn't talk to you either!

I've shared my opinions of steroids in baseball before and they're basically this. Everybody (including the media) knew what was going on and played along when it helped the game and the bottom line. Now that the jig is up, no one has any right to toss scapegoats to the wolves to save their own hides.

What's going to be interesting is where the reaction to the report will go from here. Lawsuits from many players seem to be in the offing.

Fielder Mike Greenwell has stepped forward to ask if he'll get the MVP honors Baseball awarded Jose Conseco in 1988 while Greenwell came in second. Overall, virtually 75% of baseball's trophies and records are held by players known or suspected of juicing.

As an aside, 1988 was the first time steroids raised their ugly head in the sport, prompting Selig to conduct a closed door meeting with owners that resulted in -- a gag order preventing baseball executives from discussing the matter.

As one Baltimore sportswriter observed -- Can you imagine what would happen to any other business that had earned this much money for so long by perpetrating a fraud?

You also have to wonder if players who fell short on financial bonuses for home runs or RBI's are considering suing anyone because they played against juiced pitchers. What about the pitchers who saw careers cut short by long balls clubbed by juicers?

What about all those minor leaguers who never made it to the show because some Juicer was holding the only available position for a team that owned their lives lock, stock and barrel? Can you imagine trying to prove in court that they were treated fairly by baseball?

And what about the fans? I was in Skydome (now the Rog-Mahal) at the playoff game where Jose Canseco canceled our world series bid with a massive jolt to left field that's still a distance record. Can I ask baseball for some money back because that game wasn't played fairly -- and they probably knew it?

No wonder Senator Mitchell recommended everybody just forget the past and move on "Like they did in Northern Ireland". The problem is -- we can't. Because his report, in seeking to ensure that the foxes remain in control of the henhouse, made forgetting the past impossible for those he named and the rest of us who believe things are supposed to be fair.

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