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Sifting through the aftermath

Mitchell lucked out, Clemens rocked, other lessons

Posted: Thursday December 13, 2007 9:58PM; Updated: Friday December 14, 2007 4:23PM
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Dozens of players, including seven MVPs, were named in the George Mitchell's report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Dozens of players, including seven MVPs, were named in the George Mitchell's report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
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After three news conferences, almost 80 named players, more than 300 pages and just one brave soul in an entire union, what are we to make of the Mitchell Report? Glad you asked. Here's the nuts and bolts of it.

Cut to the chase: who lost the most from the Mitchell Report?

Easy: Roger Clemens. You might as well call it the Clemens Report. His personal trainer, Brian McNamee, gave him up as a serial steroid and HGH user. McNamee told George Mitchell that Clemens began using steroids while playing for Toronto in 1998. (Does that year sound familiar?) McNamee said he injected the steroids into Clemens' buttocks after the Jays returned home from a trip to Florida. Up to that point Clemens was 6-6 with a 3.27 ERA. After that he was literally unbeatable: 14-0 with a 2.29 ERA. Think steroids work? McNamee told Mitchell Clemens also used steroids and HGH in 2000 and 2001.

The Clemens Report ... er, Mitchell Report ... casts Clemens under the same harsh light as Barry Bonds: an all-time great who wanted more. His reputation is in tatters. We need to hear from him immediately, not his attorney.

Soon the Hall of Fame is going to need an out-building for all the great players who forfeited what would have been automatic enshrinement: Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Clemens, Bonds. ... The lineup is growing into one that could take on the best one that's actually in Cooperstown.

What's the most important lesson here?

Get a mule to buy your drugs? Well, no. It's this: While the "list" of names is sexy, we have to remember we can't change the past, so we must look ahead, and that's where Mitchell really did his best work. He rightly recommended that the union and the commissioner's office must get out of the drug-testing business and leave it to experts. We're five years into their drug-testing plan and they're still improving it incrementally.

Mitchell was right to call for a completely independent agency to run the program from top to bottom and provide the needed transparency for people to believe in it. That means a full public audit (independent of names, of course) that accounts for the number of tests in and out of season, the results of those tests and the substances that show up as positives. Somehow that idea has never occurred to the owners and players.

Mitchell had almost two years and an unlimited budget to come up with this steroid "road map." How did he do?

The guy lucked out. For a year Mitchell was putting together a glorified clip job, like a college term paper complete with footnotes, before Kirk Radomski and McNamee fell into his lap. It was only under orders from government agents that Radomski and McNamee talked to Mitchell. They risked further prosecution from government agents and harsher sentences if they failed to cooperate with Mitchell. So they sang. And Mitchell suddenly had the guts to his report.

How did Bud Selig handle this?

He did the right thing by taking the moral high ground, accepting all of Mitchell's recommendations at face value. "There is nothing in his recommendations I can even begin to disagree with," he said. Great move. He lobbed the ball to Donald Fehr's side of the court, knowing full well how closely Congress is watching this.

Two quibbles, though: Why does it always take an outside agent (articles, books, Congress, Mitchell) to get Selig to advance his position? And secondly, would it kill Selig to admit some culpability? When a reporter asked him to comment on Mitchell's assertion that all parties were culpable in letting the Steroid Era grow, including the commissioner, Selig danced around his responsibility. "The fact of the matter is it happened," he said.

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