Now that we have had a couple of days to let the commentary on the Mitchell Report sink in, I have a few comments to make. I am not going to backtrack and try to convince you that the report was a good one or and important one or even a cathartic one. It is not. There are no surprises and the recommendations are either patently obvious or destined to cause friction between MLB and the Players Association. Let nothing that follows lead anyone to think that I believe the Mitchell Report is worth a whole lot. Nevertheless, some of the howling criticism of the report is over the top and meaningless.
Let me start with the absurd notion that the Mitchell Report contains nothing except information provided by two men who are being pursued by the Feds and the DA of New York for felonies related to this steroid trafficking mess and that without such information there would be nothing in the report. Welcome to Planet Earth, Captain Obvious. Mitchell had no power to compel anyone to talk to him; indeed, most players who were invited to speak to him and his committee members declined. Everyone knew that was the case on the day the study began; the fact that he managed to find a way to get the authorities to direct a couple of “witnesses” his way speaks to his negotiation abilities.
Let us also dismiss the criticism that the information herein comes from people who are charged with serious crimes and they are speaking out only to save their skin. Welcome to Planet Earth, Captain Obvious. Turning one criminal into a witness for the state against other potential criminals is hardly a new circumstance. Why is it that the people who turned on folks like Ken Lay and/or Scooter Libby are immediately credible witnesses whose words cannot possibly have any self-interest in them but McNamee and Radomski are nothing but lowlife weasels? It is common practice to use plea bargains to gather evidence for subsequent prosecutions; while the Mitchell Report is not a prosecutorial tool, there does not appear to be any great social harm done by having witnesses aimed their way by the Feds or by the DA’s office in NY.
Peter Gammons went so far as to describe McNamee and Radomski as “sewer rats”. Excuse me? Even if this whole mess devolved down to a “he said/he said something else” confrontation, why at this stage does he know for sure that one side of the argument deserves to be demonized and characterized as sewer rats while the other side is treated with kid gloves. Suppose a general manager called Gammons a “slimy enabler’ in all of this because he lionized and protected Clemens and Bonds and other big league players all of those years? Do you think that Mr. Gammons would take offense and froth up in righteous indignation? You bet he would.
The way to find out if these guys are “sewer rats” is pretty clear. Roger Clemens needs to sue them for defamation/slander/libel and the like and then he needs to testify in court about what happened. Then there will be a way to determine who the liars are and who the truth-tellers are. I shan’t be holding my breath – - because to date no one has sued José Canseco for naming individuals as users. But this would be the way for us to find out who the real “sewer rats” are.
Another charge is that “everything in the report is hearsay”; there are no positive drug tests there. So what? There are people in jail all over the country based on circumstantial evidence. Of course, it would be nice to have a positive drug test too just as it would be even better to have a video tape of one of the ball players getting injected in his buttocks with the label on the syringe clearly legible. If that is to be the standard of evidence, then no one will be convicted of anything in any of these matters because those tapes more than likely do not exist. Additionally, remember that the report does make reference to personal checks and mailing labels and personal handwritten notes all related to the purchase of steroids and HGH. I know this is an assumption and that assumptions are dangerous, but if a player ordered and paid for steroids/HGH, why should I believe that he never used any of them? Unless he was reselling them to other players of course…
I am not a lawyer; I never went to law school; I do not play a lawyer on TV and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Having said that, I do not think that everything that has been dismissed as “hearsay” is really “hearsay”. If player Joe Flabeetz asks trainer Sam Glotz to order him some steroids/HGH and then Sam Glotz recounts what Joe Flabeetz asked him to do, that is not hearsay. I do not know what the exact legal term is, but that’s a statement directly related to a criminal act – purchasing of steroids/HGH outside a doctor’s supervision – so it is not hearsay. The cancelled checks and mailing labels are not hearsay. The statement from Sam Glotz that he injected steroids/HGH into the butt of Joe Flabeetz on however-many occasions is not hearsay. All of this does not add up to an airtight case against Joe Flabeetz or any other player in the report, but to dismiss everything there as hearsay is nonsense.
I would also like to point out that the Mitchell Report was delivered to the Commissioner of Baseball not to a Federal Court. The Federal Rules of Evidence are foundation pieces in the administration of justice and those rules will apply when/if anyone faces prosecution for actions discussed in the Mitchell Report. Nevertheless, there was no need to make the evidence used in the report adhere to those standards. Moreover, in the Court of Public Opinion, evidentiary rules are quite different. If you don’t think so, consider the number of endorsements offered to and the money collected for endorsements by one Orenthal James Simpson over the past decade. At one time, he hauled in big-time endorsement money because he was someone the public recognized and liked and trusted. Now the public merely recognizes him – - despite the fact that a criminal court said he was not guilty of a double murder. In the Court of Public Opinion, rules of evidence and the standards for a negative outcome are very different from a Federal criminal case.
For reasons that I do not understand, most of the media has heaped far more abuse on Senator Mitchell and Bud Selig than they have on Don Fehr and the Players Association. At some level of analysis, the Players Association has to get an equal measure of blame. Consider this statement from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:
“The players’ union fights drug testing every step of the way, to protect the players. How’s that working out? Every player is now embarrassed publicly. The sport will lose trillions, and its dignity. The juicers have carted off zillions of dollars, and taken hundreds of jobs, and records and honors, at the expense of the non-juicers. You’re doing a heckuva job, Union!”
With regard to the idea that Roger Clemens is getting better treatment from the media than Barry Bonds did, that is the case at the moment. Is that because of Clemens’ whiteness and Bonds’ blackness? I don’t think so. At the moment, Bonds is charged with perjury – not steroid use/abuse. Roger Clemens – to the best of my knowledge – has never been put under oath to speak about steroid use and therefore cannot possibly have perjured himself on that subject. It’s not nice to stand in front of a camera and lie to the public; it’s against the law to do that under oath with a judge presiding. Former President William Jefferson Clinton found that out in a very personal way, no?
So, hold off on the racial aspect of the Clemens/Bonds treatment issues for a little while and see how all of it shakes down in the future. If Clemens is called to testify in court and lies under oath, then look to see if the prosecutors charge him after a couple of years of scrutiny. If they do not, then look for explanations involving race; if they do, drop the race angle.
With regard to Hall of Fame voting, I’ve heard more than a few people say they will vote for both Bonds and Clemens for the Hall of Fame because they did Hall of Fame caliber “stuff” on the field long before it is alleged that they began to take steroids. I don’t vote for the Hall of Fame and don’t want to presume to tell anyone how to vote for the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, that logic just doesn’t seem nearly as appealing when you consider that the same standard would usher Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame in a heartbeat. Rose collected 4256 base hits long before there is any hint that he bet on baseball games. If a voter looks to and relies on achievements prior to the onset of ‘improper activities”, then that voter would seem honor-bound to press a serious case to get Pete Rose eligible for the Hall of Fame and inducted at the earliest possible moment.
For the record, if I did have a Hall of Fame vote, I’d put Rose and Bonds and Clemens in the Hall of Fame because of their accomplishments AND I would add in their displays statements and conclusions about their transgressions with regard to how most people see the etiquette, the history and the rules of baseball.
Finally, one more comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle regarding athletes and steroids:
“From Marion Jones and Bonds, a lesson for you kids out there: If you’re eating Flax-o-Flakes or Choc-o-Flax every morning and you suddenly notice that you’re setting sprint records, winning Olympic gold medals and hitting monstrous home runs, have mom get a lab analysis of that cereal.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…