Since Thursday, when former Senator George Mitchell released his report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, I’ve been struck by the reactions from the top (that would be you, Commissioner Selig) down to the media, fans and some that study the game. Maybe I have become too practical and pessimistic in my ways, but I’m still of the belief that due process has to occur in this country, and that this report is not the be-all-end-all on the matter. Just because your name is in a “report” does not make you guilty.
Each of the 30 clubs has decided to issue a statement on the report, with most rolling out nothing more than a form letter. The one issued by the Orioles (a team that sees more than a few player names named in the report, by the way) seemed to say what makes a great deal of sense:
As to the information and allegations contained in the Mitchell Report, the Orioles caution observers to resist the temptation to accept collective judgments based upon unsubstantiated allegations.
The Orioles further believe that each Major League player must be treated on an individual basis, must not be judged responsible by mere association, and is innocent of any improper conduct until proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt.
It’s not often that I say this about Peter Angelos and the Orioles, but… Bravo.
There are other matters happening that will stymie Bud Selig’s attempt to move forward with the 20 recommendations in the Mitchell Report.
(See the recommendations in the Mitchell Report here)
Removing whether there should or should not be more stringent testing from the equation, the fact is, there are labor laws in this country, and with that, management and labor will have to hash matters out through collective bargaining. Management may wish to enact every one of the 20 recommendations, but the reality is, unless Donald Fehr and the players want to go along for the ride, chances are only a subset of the 20 will happen, and even then, not without alteration. Only someone like Rep. Waxman or Davis and members of Congress could ram something through to back Selig, but even that seems a stretch.
Lastly, the system of suspension works fine in its current state. I bring this up after reading J.C. Bradbury’s Op/Ed in today’s New York Times.
First of all, I applaud the likes of J.C. for looking at the system and saying it could be better. Much like the revenue-sharing system in the CBA, tweaks or complete new methods should be talked of and mentioned. After all, Charlie Finley talked of orange baseballs for night games, and a form of a designated hitter. The orange balls never transpired, but eventually the DH as we know it was added in. Now whether it is good for the game or not is a question for another time; the fact is, fresh ideas are healthy for the game.
Back to the matter at hand, when the rubber meets the road, politics comes into play. We can argue about this, but the system of suspension without pay for analytical positive tests seems more than adequate. Not only does it hurt the player, but by keeping the player at home, it hurts the team – a further incentive that places peer pressure to not get popped in play. Negotiating any kind of a radical shift from the current system would seem difficult at best. As I said, it’s good to see articles talking about such change, and makes for interesting reading, it just isn’t practical politically.
As for non-analytical positives (such as the Radomski list in the Mitchell Report), due process has to occur. As I mentioned in Guillen & Gibbons Suspensions Prelude to Mitchell Report, “Some players will decide to do the time, and apologize, as was the case today with Gibbons. Others will fight the accusations by way of arbitration, as is the case with Guillen.” Well, here we are.
(See all the player names in the Mitchell Report by context)
With Andy Pettitte’s statement yesterday in which he said that he used hGH twice in 2002, we’re seeing the “Gibbons model” take shape. Pettitte could see the 15-day suspension that was doled out to Guillen and Gibbons, do the time, and more forward.
Others may feel that they have been wrong accused and fight back.
Let’s say this, I’m not discounting the findings in the Mitchell Report (or at least not yet).
Finally, let’s not confuse my stance on practicality with some notion that I don’t believe the system could be better. I don’t believe that Dick Pound would like what I have to offer, but neither will Donald Fehr.
Year-round testing needs to occur. Also, a wholly independent firm should do the testing with testers giving no warning to the player or team. Lastly, a continued effort to try and at least keep up with those making the designer drugs has to take place.
On the latter, until there is a clear method of testing for hGH using urine tests, we’re going to have to live with what we are getting. Blood draws bring in privacy rights issues that simply overshadow “the best interests of the game”, in this author’s opinion. Do we need to eradicate the use of hGH from baseball (and all sports, for that matter)? Absolutely. Do you do so while possibly trampling on the Constitution? No. And some may ask whether testing for hGH should occur at all. After all, on page 9 of the Mitchell Report it states:
A number of studies have shown that use of human growth hormone does not increase muscle strength in healthy subjects or well-trained athletes. Athletes who have tried human growth hormone as a training aid have reached the same conclusion. The author of one book targeted at steroid abusers observed that “[t]he most curious aspect of the whole situation is that I’ve never encountered any athlete using HGH to benefit from it, and all the athletes who admit to having used it will usually agree: it didn’t/doesn’t work for them.”
In-between, the fact that names are in some list does not mean that a player used PEDs. It may well be that the players did in fact knowingly use PEDs, but that has to come out of the due process afforded all Americans. Until that time, as so well put in the Orioles press release, we should “resist the temptation to accept collective judgments based upon unsubstantiated allegations.”
MORE ON THE MITCHELL REPORT
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also an author for Baseball Prospectus, Basketball Prospectus and is an available writer for other media outlets.
Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.