I’ve already shared my views many times on performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, so I didn’t want to comment on the Mitchell Commission Report until I had an opportunity to read it. Now that I have, here’s my bottom-line conclusion:
$20 million for that?
What is initially most striking about the Mitchell Report is its sloppiness (couldn’t they even fix the line spacing and pagination before publishing the damn thing?). The only hard evidence in the 400 plus page report is exhibit D, which contains copies of checks and money orders that players and trainers allegedly used to buy performance-enhancing drugs from Kirk Radomski.
Thus, in almost two years of “work,” the only hard evidence that the Mitchell Commission could generate is that which was given to them by federal prosecutors who investigated and prosecuted Radomski, and then leaned on him to talk with the commission. There is a discussion dealing with the BALCO and Signature pharmacy investigations, but the product of the rest of the commission’s work is statements attributed to anonymous and a relatively few named individuals who contend that they know about certain players who used performance-enhancing drugs.
Meanwhile, the report’s lack of perspective is stunning. One section is actually devoted to sportswriter comments on baseball and steroids! What is that doing in a supposedly serious report? There is no mention of the scientific uncertainty regarding the impact that steroids and other PEDs have on performance in baseball. Similarly, there is no statistical analysis to support the report’s suggestion that PED use was even a meaningful factor in the elevated hitting levels of the late 1990’s. As anyone who follows baseball knows, there were numerous variables besides performance-enhancing drugs that impacted the surge in hitting during the late 1990’s.
And that’s not all. The report fails to place its findings in the context of the fact that MLB had no enforceable policy or regulation banning steroids until September 2002, did not have a testing program until 2004 and did not ban human growth hormone until 2005. As a number of commentators have already noted, why on earth are Mark McGwire and other ballplayers being condemned for taking androstenedione (a supplement that produces testosterone) when it could be purchased over-the-counter and didn’t even violate MLB rules at the time?
But what is arguably most galling about the Mitchell Commission Report is its utter lack of historical perspective regarding the use of PEDs within the highly-competitive environment of professional baseball.
Performance-enhancing drugs have been a mainstay of professional baseball for at least the past two generations. Before the steroid era, the PED of choice in MLB was amphetamines, which — as with steroids over the past decade — were used liberally and with the tacit consent of the MLB clubs. Amidst the catcalls from some corners that players who used steroids should be denied entry into the Hall of Fame, it should be noted that no serious consideration has even been given to denying a place in the Hall to star players who used amphetamines during their careers.
As with steroids, amphetamine use was the direct result of the physically-draining nature of the MLB season and the pathologically competitive environment that the MLB owners promote and MLB fans love. The players who took steroids and other PED’s over the past decade were attempting to improve their bodies’ capacity to endure that punishing workload (regardless of whether their protocols were really effective), just as the players who used amphetamines in earlier eras were attempting to improve their attention span and reaction time.
Isn’t it ironic that the Mitchell Commission and much of the mainstream media vilifies professional ballplayers who used PEDs in an attempt to prevent their bodies from breaking down, while MLB management and the same mainstream media for decades have lauded “tough” injured players who “played with pain” through their ailments, even as MLB clubs pressured medication on the players, often at serious risk to the players’ health and careers?
The Mitchell Commission didn’t have access to most of the players because of the Players Union’s decision not to cooperate, but the commission did have complete access to employees of the MLB clubs and the Baseball Commissioner’s office. Despite that broad access, the report is almost completely silent on the role of MLB management in establishing the culture in which PEDs became an integral part of competing for and maintaining a precious MLB roster spot. Likewise, the report provides precious little information on how the Commissionerís Office and the MLB clubs addressed the growing problem of PEDs in MLB. The Mitchell Commission’s failure to include this readily available information in the report had to be intentional and reflects a concerted effort by the commission to keep the focus of the report on the players.
And Mitchell got $20 mil for his law firm’s work? Good work if you can get it, I guess. But not work of which he should be proud.
Update: J.C. Bradbury proposes a creative way to deter PED use in baseball.