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Now What?

Though merely scratching the surface of an era-defining problem, the Mitchell Report has the potential to change baseball -- if baseball lets it

Posted: Tuesday December 18, 2007 9:21AM; Updated: Tuesday December 18, 2007 9:21AM
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The ex-senator's most valuable contribution may be his insistence that baseball embrace independent drug testing.
The ex-senator's most valuable contribution may be his insistence that baseball embrace independent drug testing.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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Only through a tiny keyhole could George Mitchell view the dimly lit room of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, his scope constricted by a stiff code of silence among union members and a drug policy crafted and administered by the commissioner's office and the union to be opaque where convenient rather than fully transparent. Even thus blinkered, the former U.S. senator got as roguishly ugly a glimpse of baseball as ever has been seen.

The Mitchell Report, released last Thursday, 21 months after commissioner Bud Selig appointed Mitchell to operate his investigation, could not by definition or aspiration be comprehensive. It did not have to be. A peek through a keyhole is enough. It is enough to define an era, not for the first time, but officially, once and for all, as legally and ethically corrupt.

Uncovering only two new main arteries of information across two decades of rampant drug use in the game (and only then by the serendipity of federal intervention), Mitchell gathered enough to pull together a detailed, damning narrative. His report depicts a drug-addled game in which steroids and syringes were found in toiletry bags, lockers, rolled-up socks and overnight packages delivered to clubhouses. The drugs were paid for with money orders, personal checks, cash -- as much as $10,000 -- left on doorsteps in express delivery boxes. The preferred response of players, club officials and MLB executives was to look the other way.

As important as the Mitchell Report is as a historical document, though, its real worth will be determined by its capacity as an agent of change. The salaciousness of naming names will fade. (However hamstrung, Mitchell identified three times as many players as did the entire four-year history of mandatory steroid testing: 89, including Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada and Eric Gagné.) What he saw through a keyhole will matter only when we get the answer to this question: Now What?

The first result of the Mitchell Report should be for baseball to get out of the drug-testing business immediately and entirely. The report proves that owners and players cannot be trusted to run a transparent, state-of-the-art program. They need to hire experts, such as those in the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), to take over all aspects of drug testing.

Beginning in 2006, baseball did name an "independent program administrator," but the commissioner's office and union still control such key protocols as the number of tests (both in and out of season), the substances that are banned, who collects and tests the samples, what determines "reasonable cause" for more frequent testing and how to investigate and determine positive tests. "Sport cannot promote and police itself," says Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA. "In my mind that's an actual conflict of interest."

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