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.
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.
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
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the Mitchell Report is as a historical document, though, its real worth will be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:
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."
Here are examples,
most of which are identified in the Mitchell Report, showing why baseball needs
to turn over the testing to independent experts.
1. Some players
were able to get notification well in advance of their test dates—early enough
so that they could, in theory, get or stay clean. In 2004, according to the San
Francisco Chronicle, Greg Anderson, then the personal trainer for Barry Bonds,
learned that Bonds would be tested in late May or early June. The San Francisco
Giants slugger was tested on May 28 and again on June 4. Moreover, that
September, according to the Mitchell Report, an unidentified ex--major leaguer
was tipped off by players' association chief operating officer Gene Orza that
he would be tested within two weeks. (Orza declined to be interviewed by
2. No drug tests
took place in the 2004, '05 and '06 postseasons.
3. No drug tests
occurred in the off-seasons following the 2004 and '05 seasons. When baseball
did act after '06, it conducted only 68 tests—involving fewer than 6% of the
players—and in those cases players had been afforded advance notice of between
24 and 72 hours.