December 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]

The Mitchell Report is released

Thirty three months after the Capitol Hill hearings on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, former senator George Mitchell submitted his massive 311-page report on the dope problem, a PDF version of which is available from Two books focused the public's attention on the issue: Jose Canseco's Juiced (2005), and Game of Shadows (2006), by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. A large portion of the new information in Mitchell's report came from Kirk Radomski, and eleven players admitted buying performance-enhancing drugs from him. The activities of trainer Greg Anderson, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), etc. were mostly a rehash of earlier published reports. No active major league player other than Jason Giambi consented to speak with Mitchell. The report focuses mainly on steroids, but also on human growth hormone, which is much harder to detect than steroids. Paul Byrd was among the players who claimed to use it for therapeutic purposes.

What follows is a partial list of players named in the Mitchell report, in approximate order of when they were first mentioned, with the more well-known players shown in bold face. For fans of the Yankees, the biggest disappointment was seeing the names of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Say it ain't so! Sammy Sosa was only mentioned once, to my surprise. Most of the players in that list are under a heavy cloud of suspicion, jeopardizing their future eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, we must remember that under our system of law, they are presumed innocent until proven guilty of criminal conduct. The list below should not be considered as either authoritative or exhaustive.

Asterisks indicate past or present Washington Nationals players. It's too bad Paul Lo Duca was named so soon after signing with the Nats.

It wasn't a very good sign when BALCO's Victor Conte said that Mitchell's report was a whitewash. Echoing what Mark McGwire said in his March 2005 testimony, Mitchell is less concerned with punishing past misdeeds than with correcting the problem in the future. It sounds like a cop-out, but given the huge scope of the problem, there wouldn't be much point to a full-blown investigation of past drug abuse. The report makes clear that widespread steroid use was suspected at least as early as 1996, when the number of home runs started to surge. The earliest hint of abuse was in 1988, when Jose Canseco was jeered for suspected steroid use, about the same time that Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic medals. So how did players ever think they would get away with it? Well, believing that oneself is above the law is one of the essential characteristics of people with inflated egos.

In assessing blame for dope use, we must keep in mind that standards and rules have changed over the years. For example, it was not until the 2002 collective bargaining agreement that Major League Baseball adopted a mandatory random drug testing program. Ethical standards in the 1990s were perhaps best defined by Bart Simpson:

"I didn't do it!"
"You can't prove I did it!"
"So what? Everybody does it!"

In one sense, Mitchell is correct to blame everyone involved with baseball, but of course such a vague statement (liberal breast-beating?) doesn't really count for very much. What about the collective responsibility of the teams? The players, the coaches, the manager, and the owners should each shoulder some of the burden for enforcing discipline and punishing cheaters.

More broadly, the baseball dope scandal aptly illustrates a fundamental, glaring defect in the contemporary American economy: The growing inclination to cut ethical corners in order to get an edge on competitors. Hence, the hypocrisy over the widespread use of illegal immigrants in our labor force, which artificially holds down costs and fuels our "steroid-based" economy.

As for Mitchell's suggested corrective measures, I suppose they are the best we can hope for, but some of them remind me of the intrusive "Mickey Mouse" procedures used to screen terrorists at airports -- lacking in common sense. Ultimately, it will be up to the players themselves to uphold standards of good sportsmanship, and to fans to hold the players accountable. That is how virtue is maintained in free societies -- not by cumbersome rules.