$20 million for that?

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.

4 thoughts on “$20 million for that?

  1. Thanks Tom for the insightful comment on the Mitchell Report. As I read it myself, I’m wondering the same things that you pointed out.
    Your statement,
    “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?” is why I don’t care about all of this, if it was legal at the time then what’s the point!
    Great Post!

  2. It should be very clear that the MLB instituted policies against anabolic steroids (AAS) and PEDs long long before 2003. This is an oft confused point, which Mitchell addressed on page 18 of the report. The MLB regs are well documented by Mitchell (which I too have pointed out) only Mitchell dates the regs much earlier than I do http://grg51.typepad.com/steroid_nation/2007/09/illegal-perform.html

    AAS are scheduled drugs under the FDA rules; HGH is likewise a scheduled drug, although of more recent vintage. Therefore the players knew darn well that the use of these drugs was not only prohibited but illegal. These guys bought illegal drugs from alley steroid dealers like Radomski (who supplied AAS, HGH, masking agents, and Vicodin)

    The fact of the matter is that this is indeed a ‘Game of Shadows’. A close reading of the Mitchell Report documents the sleazy dealings of the drug dealers with the athletes. MLB players were using HGH purchased from AIDS patients for goodness sakes. This is classic illicit drug use, for the purpose of cheating their fellow players.

    The more I read the report the more I am struck at the widespread PED culture in MLB. Everyone seemed to either tacitly acknowledge widespread PED use, or to naively ignore the PED problem. The MLBPA might have tipped off players about testing; the owners evaluated players based on steroid use or not — injuries were more prevalent in juicers. There is plenty of blame to spread.

    Twenty million does seem like a high bill..I would even work for that kind of change.

    Mitchell’s report covered what he could. He could not regurgitate the entire history of PED use; if one wants more background read ‘Juicing the Game’ by Howard Bryant, or ‘The Juice’ by Will Carroll, or even ‘Game of Shadows’ by Fainaru-Wada and Williams.

    Mitchell also does not have the expertise to assess the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of PEDs; that is an on-going debate that almost never will be settled to anyone’s satisfaction.

    However, the athletes believe in the effectiveness of the juice. Thus, the players are taking drugs in high doses with horrible side effects. Therefore, for Mitchell, the scientific evidence is essentially irrelevant: he is assigned to document the problem, not to analyze the effectiveness of PEDS (which medical researchers argue about).

    Mitchell’s recommendations need to be assessed; there are some very good measures MLB could take to change this culture. Drug testing is either a mild success or a moderate failure depending on the goals. Further, that unsavory process carries some 4th amendment questions.

    The medical profession stands accused too. I say behind every doped athlete stands an unethical medical professional.
    Overall, the expense was great, and the news might be somewhat old, but Mitchell addresses in more depth than anyone to date, the sad doping culture baseball exists in now. Let’s either clean the MLB up, or decide to have a debate on the merits of legal PEDs.

  3. Gary, thanks for the comment, but let me clear up the issue of when steroids were banned in MLB.
    PED’s were not prohibited in baseball prior to the 2002 Joint Drug Program. Fay Vincentís 1991 memo and the other commissioner proclamations that the Mitchell Report refers to were no more binding than a bill that is passed by Congress but then vetoed by the President. Arbitrators would not uphold the memo as the law of baseball. It was not until 2002 that the players and owners agreed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to a testing and enforcement program. A second positive test was a punishable offense in 2004, but there was not even a sanction for first-time offenders until 2005.
    In short, although steroid use without a prescription violates federal and state laws, that is not sufficient to declare their use in baseball to be improper. If it was, then there there would have been no need to ban them explicitly in the CBA and the Official Baseball Rules.

  4. Pingback: A misfired missile shot at the Rocket | Houston's Clear Thinkers

Leave a Reply to Dennis Bailey Cancel reply