NEW YORK – By Thursday night in dark and soggy Manhattan, it hadn’t much felt like a day for a "fresh start," George Mitchell’s vision for baseball, its authorities, and the assorted clients of Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee.
From one Midtown ballroom to another, from Mitchell’s broad strokes of industry-wide culpability to his pointed paragraphs on Roger Clemens, from Mitchell’s standards of inclusion to the under-the-wire signings of players tainted by the report (Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Andy Pettitte), the less-generous vision was that baseball’s progress was nothing compared to the ground that remains to be covered.
In the span of five hours, or about the time it takes for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to slog through a ballgame, Mitchell illuminated a few murky corners of the game on E. 42nd Street, Commissioner Bud Selig suggested there would be no amnesty for the game's cheaters on Park Avenue, and Players' Association chief Don Fehr assumed a measured defiance on E. 48th Street.
Thanks to Radomski and, the surprise witness, McNamee, baseball had its anti-steroids bombshell, a relevant report that matched its newly adopted energy for leveling its playing fields and polishing its reputation. For pure headline value, it had Clemens, the 354-game winner, in a SkyDome apartment, taking injections of Winstrol into his rear end. For black comedy, Lo Duca, the four-time All-Star, jotting light-hearted notes to his supplier on Dodger Stadium stationery. For naivety, dozens of ballplayers purchasing illegal drugs with personal checks.
Early evening in his corner office, 31 floors above Park Avenue, Selig seemed genuinely satisfied with the report that cost his owners $20 million. He'd watched Mitchell’s news conference from the Grand Hyatt hotel on television, then conducted his own news conference at the Waldorf-Astoria. Upon returning to the MLB offices, he slipped off his black loafers and replaced them with softer slippers. He hoisted his feet to the corner of his desk and pushed back in his chair, a Diet Pepsi in arm's reach.
"If we were naïve or missed some signals," Selig said to a handful of writers, "I accept that responsibility."
Going on 21 months before, in the moments after he'd assigned Mitchell to investigate baseball's torrid history with steroids, Selig stood in the same office, agitated, pacing the room, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
Now, amid the indictment of Barry Bonds, recent suspensions of Jose Guillen (since appealed) and Jay Gibbons, continued frustration with a viable test – urine or blood – for human growth hormone, Selig was far less severe. He engaged Dr. Gary Green, the UCLA-based drug-testing expert, in a complicated discussion about HGH and its properties. He deferred questions regarding possible changes to the current Joint Drug Agreement – those that could be done unilaterally, and those that required collective bargaining – to his senior vice president, Rob Manfred.
And he made it clear that Mitchell's advice to pardon those who'd previously violated the drug agreement was quaint and well-intended, but not very likely.
If the steroid era is to define Selig's term as commissioner, then he seemed intent to at least soften the image. In spite of speculation by the public and from within his game that the investigation would amount to little more than an expensive bit of tail chasing, Mitchell had managed to produce something of value. The report is less than comprehensive. Much of it simply recited the facts of the BALCO investigation. So many paragraphs concluded with the signature line, "He did not respond to my request."
But, Mitchell, perhaps by calling in some favors from his time as a U.S. Attorney, had Radomski. And Radomski, perhaps, provided McNamee. Or maybe McNamee wandered into the wrong clubhouse at the wrong time. It seemed to bother no one on the Mitchell-Selig side that Radomski and McNamee, much more attractive to the feds than the ballplayers they served, had great incentive to keep the stories coming. Radomski, for one, is due to be sentenced the month after next.
"Knowledge," Selig insisted. "Objective knowledge."
An hour later and a block away, Fehr stared through a crowded room and asked the people in it to consider "the reliability of the sources."
The day began in the Manhattan Ballroom just off the Grand Hyatt lobby, opposite the double doors that lead to Grand Central Station. Ninety minutes before his news conference, Mitchell toured the ballroom, familiarizing himself with the podium and his place beside it. Outside, Jose Canseco, who undoubtedly views himself as a steroid-busting pioneer, drew a crowd.
Along the south wall of the ballroom, a row of 25-foot windows framed a passing snowstorm that turned to sleet and then to rain.
It was here that baseball would learn more of its past, where the names and places would be pushed up against the context of the period.
The reports themselves, packaged in two dozen white boxes, were broken open with loud pops as the tape broke away from the cardboard. Young men and women hauled them off in stacks of 10 or 12, delivering one per reporter. The massive and high-ceilinged room went quiet except for the rustle of pages and the hissed names: Clemens. Gagne. Rondell White? Pettitte. Knoblauch.
Mitchell began to speak, slowly, authoritatively. Steroids in baseball were widespread. The game's response was slow to develop, the union resistant to change, the failure total. The players, Mitchell said, were indeed responsible for their actions.
"But," he said, "they did not act in a vacuum."
He advocated more change, greater awareness, the forgiveness of performance-enhancing sins.
"We’re all human," he said. "We all make mistakes."
Yes, he said, he served – and will serve again – the Red Sox as a director. No, he insisted, this was not the reason for all the Yankees, or the scarcity of Red Sox, in his report.
"Kirk Radomski lived in New York," Mitchell said of the former Mets clubbie. "And, as a result, he dealt with more players from New York. We, of course, did not select Kirk Radomski and we did not select the players who dealt with Kirk Radomski."
He added, "Judge me by my work."
It might be easier to get a union rep to roll over for a steroids investigation than to get a cab on a rainy Manhattan day. So, an hour later and 10 blocks away, in the Starlight Roof 18 flights up, it was to a soaked audience that Selig lauded Mitchell for his work.
"His report is a call to action," Selig said. "And I will act."
Immediately, he said, he would take steps to eliminate the 24-hour advance notice given to clubs prior to drug testing. Immediately, he said, he would investigate the accused players and club personnel and consider discipline.
"I will take action when I believe it is appropriate," he said, "particularly when I believe it affects the integrity of the sport."
Canceled checks, you can be sure, will be appropriate enough.
The counter view assembled in a room on the third floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, about halfway between the Waldorf and MLB's headquarters. Through the winding corridors, a young man behind the desk of the fitness room pointed to his right, directing traffic to The Madison One, a small, dark room where the chandeliers dangled a foot or two overhead. The players' union had underestimated the turnout, so dozens of reporters stood outside the news conference, straining to hear Fehr's opinion of a document he claimed to receive only five hours before.
Turned out, he didn't love it.
First off, the commissioner had unilaterally ordered the investigation, backing the union into a defensive position. Then, Mitchell had sought interviews and medical records, which seemed unfair to the union, as the information could be used in any resulting criminal investigation. Fehr also said he'd asked to see the report before it was released. Both Mitchell and Selig denied the request. So, he said, a single report arrived at the union offices at 1 p.m. – one hour before Mitchell began speaking – and couldn't immediately be examined, because copies had to be made.
Fehr said he hadn't read the report and hadn't watched Mitchell or Selig on television.
He later issued a statement that abided by most of what he said at the Intercontinental, one that defended his players against rogue accusations and, in light of the existing (and twice re-opened) collective bargaining agreement, his organization against MLB advancement.
The reputations of his players, the ones accused of buying steroids and HGH from Radomski, the ones accused of allowing McNamee in, are tarnished, he said, "probably forever."
Outside, the rain had brought traffic to a standstill on the corner of Park Avenue and 48th Street. Horns bellowed in the darkness. Fehr folded his notes. Selig packed his copy of Mitchell’s report for the flight home. Mitchell was done.
If this was a fresh start, it would start here, in the ballrooms of Midtown.
And there still weren't any cabs.
- Kirk Radomski
- George Mitchell