Monday, December 17, 2007

I've Avoided Discussion of the Mitchell Report

Until now that is, because I've felt all along that there's a complete lack of credible evidence and to name names without regard to anything substantial is wrong, especially when the investigation is led by the Director of the Boston Red Sox, and lo and behold the report's release allows the Boston Globe to run headlines like "No Current Sox Fingered."

Tim Marchman of the NY Sun has a really good take on the report. You can find it here. Some excerpts follow:

To understand the importance of Senator George Mitchell's investigation into baseball's drug scandals, issued today after two years of frenzied anticipation, one must understand that Mitchell is not a neutral party.

Because the truth is usually right out in the open, it is no surprise to find a list of all the conflicts of interest that prevent Mitchell from credibly playing any independent role in baseball tucked away near the end of his voluminous report. As a consultant to Boston Red Sox ownership, a former director of the Florida Marlins, and former chairman of Disney at a time when it owned both the Anaheim Angels and ESPN, Mitchell is a member of baseball management as surely as anyone now living.

More crucially, he served with former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, columnist George Will, and Yale president Richard Levin on the 2000 Blue Ribbon commission. That group produced a notoriously owner-friendly report on baseball economics that used cooked numbers to make a case for various mechanisms meant to suppress player salaries. It laid the ground for the biggest shift in power between owners and players since the 1970s, and set a template for how to do so: Establish a nominally independent commission with ties to Congress, propose owner-friendly policies, and then watch as Congress hammers the players into submission. In 2000, the Senate actually found time to hold hearings on competitive balance in baseball, and it didn't take long for owners to force the union to accept many of the Blue Ribbon panel's recommendations.

With this background, Mitchell is hardly an onlooker, uninvolved in the sport's inner workings; he's been one of the most powerful men in the game for many years. In his report, he blithely asserts that he is "confident that none of these matters affected my ability to conduct an investigation that was thorough, impartial, and fair," but while his investigation may have been all of these things, his report is none of them. Self-contradicting, naive, and radical all at once, it could prove far more damaging to baseball than any tainted home run record.

For most, the main takeaway will be the list of 77 names of alleged drug users. Headlined by the Yankees' Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte and the Houston Astros' Miguel Tejada, the list takes in everyone from three former Mets catchers to Eric Gagne, and in its sheer weight seems to confirm both the most salacious speculation about what Mitchell would uncover and the massive scope of the drug problem. More closely examined, it does neither, and in fact reveals how shockingly little Mitchell found.

What Mitchell offers, then, is not new information, but lurid detail. ("Clemens said that he was not able to inject himself, and he asked for McNamee's help... McNamee injected Clemens approximately four times in the buttocks over a several-week period with needles that Clemens provided.") This detail came not from Mitchell's own commission, but from the access the federal government provided to witnesses and suspects in ongoing drug investigations. Conditioning coach Brian McNamee and drug dealer Kirk Radomski were both interviewed with federal agents participating. Radomski, then working out a plea bargaining arrangement with a U.S. attorney, was warned that giving Mitchell false statements would subject to criminal penalty and a harsher sentence.

Federal law enforcement didn't need to tie Mitchell's inquiry in to a plea bargaining agreement, and would almost certainly not have done so for any random collection of citizens holding a private inquiry into steroid use. Such a decision is inherently political, involving as it does relative power, which was of course the genius of appointing Mitchell: it allowed baseball to leverage the credibility he earned in a career as a distinguished senator and diplomat into access to federal power. To what end, though, does any of this work?

[For]nearly half the players on Mitchell's list, their inclusion is simply gratuitous. Sixteen names were simply scooped up from recent media reports on a federal investigation into online drug trafficking, eight were names that came out in the Balco scandal, and nearly a dozen more had previously come out one way or another. Some, like Ryan Franklin, had even failed drug tests. This leaves us with around 40 names who come as surprises. Some of them truly great players, like Kevin Brown; most are obscure journeymen, like Phil Hiatt. Against some of them there is impossibly credible evidence; against others, hardly anything at all.

The real takeaway here, though, is that despite using questionable means to questionable ends, Mitchell can present literally no evidence of his key claim that "the use of steroids in Major League Baseball was widespread." This assertion is stated flatly, as fact, but his entire report contradicts it.

Mitchell at one point, for instance, references several lurid estimates of how many ballplayers have used steroids, ranging from 20% to "at least half," to illustrate the scale of the problem. These are sourced to major league players and a coach. On the same page, though, he notes that a 2003 survey test revealed just five to seven percent of players were on steroids. Perhaps more to the point, in his own investigation he found credible evidence against 77 players—less than 2% of nearly 5,000 who took the field from 1988 to this year, roughly the time under consideration. Even allowing that Mitchell cannot be expected to have discovered every player who was using drugs, if six times as many players were using as he was able to discover that would still represent less than a fifth of the alarmist estimates he cites.

At some point, when you have spent tens of millions of dollars looking for something without finding it, you should consider that this may be because there was nothing to find. This possibility, on evidence of this report, simply never occurred to Mitchell.

A good word for a public document that draws conclusions directly contrary to those implied by the evidence it presents is propaganda. This is what Mitchell's report reads as, and what it essentially is. Most of it is taken up by dreary recitations of evidence collected against the 77 accused and by a tendentious reading of baseball's recent history with drugs that notably lacks any coherent perspective on the decades-old problem of steroid use in pro sports. (Football coaches were forcing players to gas before there was a National Football League.) It reads like a company history.

The history is easily dismissed, as it essentially presents baseball's establishment as trying to do the right thing despite being stymied by the evil players again and again. The problem, in this telling, is that the owners have simply been too virtuous for their own good, that if they'd just not been so nice they would have been able to nab the missing 48.5% of drug-addled players that their very expensive investigation wasn't able to find.

To top it all off, today there's a report that one player who "proved" to Mitchell that he purchased PEDs but destroyed them before using them, and had his name removed from the report at the last minute.

I wonder if that player wears a "B" on his cap? Whether he does or not, the fact that I'm asking the question tells you about the objectiveness of this farce.

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posted by Mr. Faded Glory @ 1:54 PM   1 comments


At 12/17/2007 7:25 PM, Blogger Rex Banner said...

This has nothing to do with Yankees/Red Sox, I wish people would stop bringing this up. The fact of the matter is he pretty much had 2 new sources of info and they just happened to be from the Yankees and Mets. That he even named one person when he wasn't able to get the whole story unfairly puts the negative spotlight on the few cheaters he uncovered. That is the real travesty, not that no Blosox were named.


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