Q&A with George Mitchell
Named players not blind-sided by senator's report
Posted: Friday December 14, 2007 5:46PM; Updated: Monday December 17, 2007 9:53AM
He's been a federal judge. He served in the U.S. Senate for a dozen years, including a six-year term as Majority Leader. He helped broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland. He was once tipped as a Supreme Court nominee. But it's hard to imagine that George Mitchell had ever endured more scrutiny and attention than he did on Thursday when he released his long-awaited report, a 400-plus-page documentation on baseball's Steroid Era. With backlash just beginning, Mitchell sat down on Friday afternoon with SI.com.
SI.com: The last 24 hours have been --
Mitchell: Very busy. I anticipated a high level of interest ... I was confident that, whatever I did, there would be some criticism. I think that's inevitable and I accept it.
SI.com: What do you ultimately take away from this exercise?
Mitchell: Well, I learned a few things. First, I learned something that was a fact for some time but I was not aware: That several hundred thousand young Americans are using steroids. It's an alarming figure that ought to shock everyone, whether you're a sports fan or not. Kids look up to athletes in every sport. Because at that age they're subject to hormonal change, the risk to them -- both physical and psychological -- is significantly greater than it is for mature adults. It's a very serious problem. I have a 10-year-old son. He loves sports. We've got a whole bookcase filled with baseball cards and pictures of athletes. You think about this in terms of your own children. How would I feel if my son started doing steroids?
The other aspect of it is looking forward. It's hard but necessary. Once people do get beyond [the past] and believe in the future, amazing things can come out of that.
SI.com: You had the role of an independent fact-finder. And yet yesterday you recommended there be no penalties for the players named in the report. Were you specifically asked to make this determination or state your opinion on this point?
Mitchell: No, it was my opinion. I feel that the most important thing for baseball to do is put the past behind it. To move forward and try to put together and develop the best possible program to bring this steroids issue [to an end]. If you are mired in the past it's difficult if not impossible to look forward. This was very much an issue in Northern Ireland when I was there. There was a war and thousands of people had died. But there was a similarity in a sense that at some point you need to move out of the past ... And there are other reasons I set forth in the report. The allegations are 2-to-9 years old. The rules in baseball were changing during that period of time. The penalties were, too. Different substances could be identified. Also, under the law, to punish someone for an act you must use the law at the time of the act, not the law at the time of the punishment. And more than half the players named in the report are no longer in Major League Baseball. If you look at all the factors, it simply makes common sense.
SI.com: Even given what you know about industrial relations in general and baseball's Players' Association in particular, were you surprised by the lack of cooperation?
Mitchell: I trained myself to control my expectations before taking any assignment, so I'm neither unrealistically elated or discouraged. I just move forward methodically and deal with issues as they arise ... I have to say that they have taken some significant steps in the past few years. I'm not an apologist for either the Players' Association or the Commissioner's Office, but in 2002 [baseball] adopted a meaningful testing program that for many years [the union] had opposed. So you have to give them credit for that. They reversed their prior policy. In the five intervening years they've agreed on a number of changes to improve the program ... there's some record -- some substantial record -- of working together.
SI.com: Can you give us a sense of what happened when you approached these players? Was it, "Mr. Roger Clemens, I'd like to talk to you?" Or "Mr. Clemens I have some potentially explosive information, I'd like to talk to you?"
Mitchell: Under the Collective Bargaining rules all communications had to be done through their representatives. So I wrote letters to the Players' Association. I provided a list of those whose names [had come up.] In the initial letter, I identified the team the player was with and the year in which the allegation occurred. There was some confusion about whether I had intended to provide them with information. I had said publicly on many occasions that I had. A couple of months ago, that was clarified. They understood clearly that I would provide them with whatever information I had. I would give them a chance to review [the allegations] with their attorney and respond. And almost without exception the response I got was a letter from the Players' Association saying they declined.