Report links stars to performance-enhancing drugs
By Josh Peter, Yahoo Sports
December 13, 2007
And on and on. At least 85 names in all. An All-Star at every position.
"For more than a decade there has been widespread anabolic steroid use," Mitchell said during a news conference. "Each of the 30 clubs has had players who have been involved."
All-Stars and Cy Young award winners were among the Major League players publicly linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs when their names appeared in the Mitchell report released Thursday. The long-awaited, 409-page report is a study of baseball's so-called Steroids Era and the culmination of a 20-month investigation led by former senator George Mitchell.
"Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades – commissioners, club officials, the players' association and players – shares to some extent the responsibility for the Steroids Era," Mitchell said. "There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on."
Commissioner Bud Selig, in a news conference shortly after the release of the report, said he is prepared to embrace all of Mitchell's recommendations.
"His report is a call to action, and I will act," Selig said.
Mitchell recommended that Selig refrain from sanctioning players except in rare cases where drug use has compromised the integrity of the game. Although Mitchell said there are "valid arguments for and against'' sanctioning players for violations that took place when drug policy was in effect, he said doing so could detract from the overriding goal of the investigation. That goal, he said, "is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use'' of performance-enhancing drugs.
"The commissioner should give the players and everyone else the chance to make a fresh start," he said.
Selig said that he would not rule out punishment and "review each player on a case-by-case basis."
Donald Fehr, executive director of the players' union, said he had not had time to adequately review the report but questioned the evidence that led to some of the players being named.
"Their reputations have been adversely affected, probably forever,'' he said.
Congressmen Henry Waxman and Tom Davis, who blistered baseball during the 2005 Congressional hearings on steroids, said in a joint statement that they plan to call Mitchell and baseball officials for more hearings Dec. 18. But they also endorsed the Mitchell report and its recommendations.
"This is a sad day for Major League Baseball but a good day for integrity in sports. It's an important step towards the goal of eliminating the use of performance enhancing substances," the statement said. "The Mitchell report is sobering. It shows the use of steroids and human growth hormone has been and is a significant problem in Major League Baseball. And it shows that everyone involved in Major League Baseball bears some responsibility for this scandal."
Mitchell noted that it is important to address the use of performance-enhancing drugs not just among the players, but among adolescents. He cited surveys that show 3 to 6 percent of adolescents have used performance-enhancing drugs and said that translates into hundreds of thousands of children.
"Every American, not just baseball fans, ought to be shocked into action by that disturbing truth," he said.
Players who did not use performance-enhancing drugs also have suffered, Mitchell said.
"The illegal use in baseball of these substances also victimize the majority of players who don't use them," he said. "We heard from many former players who believe it was grossly unfair that the users were gaining an advantage."
After months of speculation over which players would be in the reports, the stars tied to the use of steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs banned by baseball trumped the findings of the Mitchell report. Before Thursday, Bonds was baseball's lone potential Hall-of-Famer definitively linked to the use of steroids.
Mitchell said the rare cases in which he suggests Selig take action is not a reference to Bonds or any other specific player.
"That is a reference to my belief that the commissioner must have the ability to make the determination which I've set forth and he alone can judge what actions are so egregious to protect the integrity of the game," he said.
Separate from the Mitchell investigation, additional names tied to drug use could become public in the coming months. Prominent players and members of the rank-and-file implicated in an ongoing government investigation in Florida into the illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs were not in the report, according to a source involved in the investigation.
The Mitchell commission never requested from Florida authorities the names of players implicated in the ongoing investigation of the illegal distribution of steroids by Signature Pharmacy. Although government officials involved in the probe had discussed whether they would provide the names in anticipation of the request, according to the source. The source said discussions by government officials proved moot because Mitchell and his team of investigators never contacted the government investigators.
"Other investigations no doubt will turn up more names and turn up more details, but that is unlikely to significantly alter the description of the baseball Steroid Era set forth in this report," Mitchell said.
MITCHELL FACES CRITICISM
In addition to marquee players named in the report, several members of baseball's rank-and-file joined players whose names already had been leaked in published reports before the Mitchell commission's findings were released. An early criticism of the report is that it appears that the testimony of former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski and, perhaps, a small handful of other lower-level MLB employees elicited most of the new information. "The investigation did not focus on any one club or any one players. Kirk Radomski lived in New York, and as a result he dealt with more players from New York," Mitchell said. "We of course did not select Kirk Radomski and did not select the players he dealt with. We asked him to tell us what happened and told him to tell us the truth. … Indeed, we told that to every witness."
Another longstanding criticism of Mitchell is that he has been a director of the Boston Red Sox since 2001, following the purchase of the team by its current ownership group. Mitchell took a leave from that position during the investigation, said his to the Red Sox did not compromise his ability to issue a fair report.
"Judge me by my work," he said. "Read the report. You will not find any evidence of bias, of special treatment of the Red Sox or anyone else, because there is none. That had no effect, none whatsoever, … on this report."
Mitchell admitted that many potential witnesses and sources of information were unhelpful
"The players union was largely uncooperative, and for reasons that I think are understandable," he said.
Though the naming of players tied to drug use created a splash, it overshadowed the substance of the report, which assigned blame for the drug culture plaguing baseball to owners, players, baseball executives and Selig. But it went far beyond finger-pointing.
Mitchell said everyone in the game was responsible for the problem going unchecked for years.
"Club officials have routinely discussed the use of steroids when discussing players," he said.
The Mitchell report calls for changes that could serve as a road map for a sport facing political pressure to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs by its players.
But while baseball's top brass continue to digest the report and decide how to respond, they'll also have to deal with the more immediate impact of players linked to the use of banned drugs. The possible suspension of the players named in the report and the disruption it could cause at the start of next season remains to be seen. But based on recent action by Major League Baseball, the sanctions likely will depend on documents that show when players received banned drugs by the sport.
Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons have been suspended for 15 games after published reports alleged they received human growth after Major League Baseball banned the drug in 2005. By contrast, four other players – Gary Mathews Jr., Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and Scott Schoewenweis – linked to HGH escaped sanctions when MLB decided there was "insufficient evidence'' to determine those players had committed a doping violation. Those four were alleged to have received performance-enhancing drugs before 2005.
Regardless, the action demonstrates MLB's willingness to sanction players despite the absence of positive drug tests. The Mitchell report will recommend the sport take action for what are known as non-analytical positives – documents showing athletes received banned drugs – and the action against Guillen and Gibbons demonstrate baseball officials are prepared to take those steps.
But some players figure to challenge suspensions based on non-analytical positives Guillen already has instructed the players' union to file a grievance, which will be decided by an arbitrator. Gibbons has accepted his suspension.
DRUG POLICY DRAWS SCRUTINY
Even before the report was issued, baseball's drug testing policy had come under fire. MLB officials had touted it as the best in sports, yet the revelations of government investigations suggested many players using banned drugs had escaped detection.
Mitchell said the drug testing policy had been effective and helped reduce the use of steroids. But he also said he thought more players were using human growth hormone and other undetectable performance-enhancing drugs.
"The challenge now is to take the program to a new and higher level,'' he said.
To accomplish that, Mitchell made the following recommendations:
• Create an investigative body to "respond promptly and aggressively to allegations of illegal use or possession of performance-enhancing drugs." Seizing evidence of use beyond a positive drug test is critical because, "some substances are difficult or virtually impossible to detect.''
• Assign oversight of the drug testing program to a "truly independent person who holds exclusive authority over its structure and administration.''
• Conduct periodic audits of the drug testing program and transparency that would include providing details to the public.
Since 2005, when baseball implemented its drug-testing policy, 18 players have tested positive for banned drugs. Yet before the Mitchell report was released, 24 active and retired players were linked to banned drugs based on evidence seized during government raids, according to published reports. Dozens of other players yet to be named publicly were found to be tied to banned drugs based on evidence seized during government raids, according to published reports.
The integrity of the testing also came under scrutiny. In October, the New York Times published a story alleging the sport's drug-testing procedure may allow time for players to mask their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Drug testers routinely alerted teams a day or two before they arrived at ballparks and experts said that provided enough time for players to mask the presence of banned drugs in their bodies, according to the New York Times' report.
Baseball officials vigorously disputed that any teams exploited the apparent loophole for such purposes. But even before the report, Major League Baseball and other sports have faced pressure to toughen sanctions for positive drug tests.
FACING OUTSIDE PRESSURE
Under the current policy, players face a 50-game suspension for a first offense, a 100-game suspension for a second offense and a lifetime ban for a third offense. But a White House official said the Bush administration favors the drug policy used by the Olympics that calls for a two-year suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for the second offense.
It's clear why baseball and other sports leagues have resisted the sanctions and testing policy enforced by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees drug testing for the Olympics, said Scott Burns, the deputy “drug czar’’ of the White House’s National Drug Control Policy.
“They don’t want to sign on because it's tough and it's specific,'' Burns said during a recent telephone conference call. "There are consequences and it can be monitored and people will be caught. Will they eventually sign on? Just about everybody in the world has.''
If the use of steroids and other banned drugs has dropped, it has modest impact on power numbers in baseball. This year players combined for 4,957 home runs, the first time in a decade the number has fallen short of 5,000.
No player has approached the 73 home runs Barry Bonds hit in 2001, when he smashed the single-season record. That year major leaguers combined to hit 5,458 home runs, the third-highest total in baseball history.
At the same time, no tandem has staged a home-run chase like the one in 1998 that featured Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, both now suspected of using banned drugs. That season, Sosa hit 66 home runs and McGwire hit 70 home runs, and major leaguers combined to hit 5,064 homers – the first time in the sport's history the total had eclipsed 5,000.
Until the 1998 season, Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in a season had stood since 1961.
Baseball's home run bash, especially the display by McGwire and Sosa in 1998, coincided with a spike in attendance and a renewed popularity for a sport had been beset by a player strike that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. And baseball's resurgence has withstood the steroid scandals of recent years.
The same day Bonds was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that stemmed from his denying in front of a grand jury that he ever knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs, Selig announced Major League Baseball has set new records for attendance and revenue during the 2007 season.
Josh Peter is a writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Josh a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Thursday, Dec 13, 2007 2:12 pm, EST