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George Mitchell speaks. And in doing so, illuminates how useless The Mitchell Report really was.

Jan 30, 2013, 3:35 PM EDT

George Mitchell

George Mitchell, the man behind and namesake of the Mitchell Report, was on Chuck Todd’s show on MSNBC this morning to talk about the latest PED business out of Miami.  He said something pretty sensible:

“Every society has laws against robbery and murder, yet everyone knows that robbery and murder are not going to end. It’s managing an ongoing human problem. That’s the case with performance-enhancing drugs. It’s a problem of…keeping pace, reducing the incentives to use and…increasing vigilance, regulation and punishment for those who use.”

Sensible, but unfortunately we don’t treat it like that. Instead, we treat it as a scandal/parlor game in which we care more about the names of users for their own sake than we do about the underlying problem and spend far more mental effort on the former than the latter.

Of course the reason we do that is because of George Mitchell’s report itself.  It was the Mitchell Report which set the tone of how we discuss PEDs in baseball. It was the Mitchell Report which decided that the most interesting and important thing about steroids in baseball was who used and who didn’t as opposed to how PEDs get into the game, what they mean for the game, how they damage it and how they damage the users.  It did so by having as its climax a woefully incomplete naming of names — and it was the names that got all of the press — as opposed to anything approaching a real understanding of the issue.  It was George Mitchell who took Jose Canseco’s lead and turned PEDs into a gotcha game as opposed to using his report as a means of giving us a better understanding of PEDs and their role in baseball.

And that’s not a trivial concern.  Because if Mitchell is right about PEDs being a chronic, human problem, it would be a much easier problem to get at if we did not have a culture in which 98% of the energy involved in any PED story was dedicated to naming a name as opposed to understanding the circumstances at play. It would be easier to combat PEDs if we understood any of the following factors (which I’ve identified in the past), none of which the Mitchell Report was at all interested in exploring:

  • How often do players use?
  • What’s the profile of an average user?
  • When do users actually start using? High school? College? In the minors? After making The Show?
  • Is drug use a personal thing? Specifically, do guys decide on their own, based on their own personal experiences to use steroids, or is it a peer pressure thing in which certain clubhouses or cliques within them promote a “steroid culture?”
  • How do players connect with their dealers? Word of mouth, or do the dealers seek out their customers?
  • What dealers — besides the dumb ones named in the Mitchell Report who took personal checks and shipped drugs to ballparks — are the big players, as opposed to which players are the big users?
  • Are non-users choir boys who have moral objections, or does the fear of the dangers of steroids and/or a belief that they simply don’t need them inform their decision making?
  • What impact do steroids have on actual performance, both actual and perceived?

These are questions which were never answered and never asked by the Mitchell Report. Indeed, the Mitchell Report and everything that has followed has evinced a profound lack of curiosity about such topics. Mitchell gave drug dealers immunity and focused on ratting out those who were in the best position to educate Major League Baseball about the nature of its drug problem.

We study crimes like the ones Mitchell mentions in order to figure out why they happen and how best to combat them. Those studies do much to inform our law enforcement strategies.  They go together.  But George Mitchell and Major League Baseball — by treating the players like criminals rather than resources at the time of the Mitchell Report — blew their best chance to truly get a handle on the problem of performance enhancing drugs.  Baseball has been playing catch-up ever since.

As I mentioned yesterday, baseball has done a pretty good job playing catch-up. It has taken over five years, but it’s getting there.  One wonders where we’d be, however, if George Mitchell hadn’t blown it so spectacularly with his famous, should-be infamous report.

  1. rathipon - Jan 30, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    Shaming players who are found to use PED’s accomplishes the goal of “reducing the incentives to use” them. Though it certainly doesn’t have to be as much of a witch hunt as it is right now – with so many players having their reputations tarnished without an ounce of proof they did anything.

    • vallewho - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      $$,$$$,$$$ > Shame

      • rathipon - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        Loss of endorsement deals due to shame = less $$,$$$,$$$!

      • vallewho - Jan 30, 2013 at 8:30 PM

        I don’t think the average ballplayer (Melky ???) is looking forward to getting some endorsements. More likely they are “motivated” by the prospect of a multi-year / 8-figure / guaranteed contract.

        Guys with 100mil+ contracts??? pleeease.

    • Roger Moore - Jan 30, 2013 at 8:01 PM

      I’ll agree with valleywho that money will trump shame any day and twice on Sundays. And for players on the bubble, loss of endorsement money from the shame is pretty much a non-issue; the only way they’re going to boost their profile enough to earn real money from endorsements is to take PEDs and hope they don’t get caught.

    • badintent - Jan 31, 2013 at 12:28 AM

      This guy and Bud are the problem ! Make the report public now ! End this sharade. If I hear one more “leak” name story , I gonna mix up some deer antler extract with some rhino extract and put it in a blender with Tequila and be the next Triple Crown winner !!!

  2. cur68 - Jan 30, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    Man, given how sensible this post is I kind if hate myself a little for bringing the tone of the whole thing down. Still, I yam wut I yam, so y’ll just have to forgive me as I get all flippant.

    So . . . things missing form Craig’s list of questions for which we need answers:

    – Is there an eyeball test that only BBWAA know that can determine use of PEDs?
    – When did steroids become more dangerous than amphetamines?
    – Why is guilt assumed when its PEDs but not any other crime?
    – Where’s the rule about The First Ballot Hall of Fame Induction being reserved for Certain Players (like Cobb) but not Piazza?

    • historiophiliac - Jan 30, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      I think running around without a shirt on is probable cause for testing…and begs shaming.

      • nolanwiffle - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Ah, you recall the poster of Brady Anderson that the Orioles used to hawk in the early to mid 90’s. And who could possibly forget Nomar’s Sports Illustrated cover of the same vintage?

        What a ridiculous age we lived in….

      • dcfan4life - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:30 PM

        Seriously, with all the adverts and pictures and posters of baseball players done in the 90s you remember the 2 with their shirts off. Then you had to remind us who had removed such scarred images from our memories….

      • cur68 - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:34 PM

        Excellent examples of the genre, Nolan. ‘phiiliac is in fact channelling a lot of barely suppressed, all-consuming lust for Roger Bernadina’s shirtless form. I have duly informed her that I look (in my own mind) JUST like Bernadina, hence my lack of a shirt. This is modern day, 21st century lust of course. It means she must use disdain to voice her desire. I think that’s in the Wonder Woman charter or something (they won’t let me read it, the snobs). If this was back in Brady’s shirtless day then she’d have had to go with pelting her computer with her Wonder Woman dainties (which is how I believe is how it was done back then in the early 90’s).

      • sabatimus - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:36 PM

        How about the Jose Canseco shirtless batting practice baseball card? :D I forget which company released it.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        Mmmmmm, Matt Kemp’s grandparents. Nevermind.

  3. historiophiliac - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    One could almost infer from Craig’s post that the real problem is that baseball is managed by a dithering idiot…

    • schlom - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:24 PM

      I assume you are talking about Selig but you do realize that he is just the mouthpiece of the owners right? I sincerely doubt that he comes up with any policy on his own.

  4. escapingexile - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    What MLB has done is the equivalent of the police setting up a sting operation by working in conjunction with the dealer to prosecute/persecute the end user rather than cut it off at the source. Sure, the press might look great because they can stop and say look at all these people we have caught. But that is never going to stop the underlying issue. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that nothing will ever stop the underlying issue. However, I would opine that MLB would be better suited using its resources to work in conjunction with the low level user if they really want to make a dent in the problem.

  5. lazlosother - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    The Mitchell report did exactly what it was supposed to do. It placed attention and blame squarely on players, while minimizing attention and responsibility that should be attributed to Selig, the owners, and team front offices.

    Do not underestimate the Toad, he was brilliant in shuffling the whole thing off onto the players. Now he gets to wring his hands and mourn for the children. And it’s the players who continue to bear the brunt of something everyone (including fans) encouraged.

    • chomsky66 - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      It was even more than that — the Report was conceived as an assault on the players UNION, plain and simple. It was just one in a long string of assaults on the union that have been Selig’s raison d’etre from the very beginning, when he was the architect of the collusion scandal of the 1980s. Selig then initiated a putsch against Fay Vincent and wrested control of the League office for himself, and it’s been a hot-and-cold war on the players ever since. Vincent noted:

      “The Union basically doesn’t trust the ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf of that money from the players. I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it’s the reason MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr has no trust in Selig.” – Fay Vincent

      • thekcubrats - Jan 30, 2013 at 5:00 PM

        Selig got himself elected Ommish in ’92 precisely to bring the union down, and immediately set about architecting the ’94 lockout. Bud’s genius can be seen in that the lockout is still and always will be referred to as a strike — and of course it was a strike called by the players because Bud was about to impose harsh new rules, just the perfect baiting so that once again, everything could be reported as the players’ fault. The persistent collusion includes or is at least greatly enabled by the courtier press. I mean you, Heyman. (It’s also worth noting that one of the very first things Selig did was reinstate George Steinbrenner. The man is a prince.)

  6. thekcubrats - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    Hey, please, pile on Mitchell, he deserves it. But don’t forget, he delivered EXACTLY what Bud (and his racketeer owners) wanted: smearing the players, and therefore the union. Every Bud move can be easily understood by his ruthless quest to win that lockout he and his cronies lost in the 90’s.

  7. djstanger - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    Nobody took Canseco’s allegations seriously at all until the Mitchell Report. Nobody had a sense of the prevalence of PEDs in baseball until the Mitchell Report. Nobody thought minor leaguers (get ‘em young) or fringe major leaguers were taking PEDs, until the Mitchell Report. And until the Mitchell Report, nobody even understood, let alone got concerned about, pitchers taking PEDs. The MR needed to name names to get people to understand that this really was out there and it was serious. Until then, it was too easy to explain it away as being about a few clods and laughable, salacious stories.

    • jrobitaille23 - Jan 30, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      This author is such an apologist for the cheating players. Let me guess, tomorrow he will write yet another article on behalf of Arod. If not for the Mitchell report, with all its flaws, the sport may not have been cleaned up to the degree that it has. It was a necessary evil. Exposing the players brought the attention and ire of fans, players, Congress, etc and now baseball is way ahead of other leagues in testing.

  8. fanofevilempire - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    George Mitchell also said no Boston Red Sox used PED’s.
    He is a moron.

  9. caeser12 - Jan 30, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    No one seemed to mind during the “Magical Summer of 1998″ when almost every so-called baseball expert was waxing poetically (especially Mike Lupica) about how McGuire and Sosa saved baseball. They loved it so much that the “Chicks dig the long ball” slogan was used to get more people (especially Women) to the ballpark..Now the “integrity” of the game is at stake/ Baseball had NO integrity PRIOR to 1947.

  10. JustMeMike - Jan 30, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    We all have masters don’t we Craig?

    Whether it be setting records on the field, putting fannies in the seats at the stadiums, greed, avarice, ego and even to keep readers returning to this site over and over again by writing articles just like every other sports/media outlet is doing that lead to discussion ( btw I am one those who visit all the time) it is getting so tiring.

    Wringing our hands while we bemoan the fact that baseball players are driven by the same demons as the media, and the owners, and the fans – ie – all of us are human – and prone to ill-conceived and poorly thought out actions – isn’t ever going to get us anywhere.

    Craig, while you do a nice job of pointing out what Mitchell didn’t say or should have said – all I see is that while those questions may be valid, and may help us to get a better grip or understand the situation – it is all besides the point.

    The who, the why, and the how certain players seem to be unable to resist (basically what we learn from those questions) won’t get us to where we would like to go Which is chemical free baseball. But those questions can lead to us to a cultural change only and look how long that it will take.

    We all know there is only one way to get there, and even that won’t stop the problem. But we have to get something in place now. Even though the CBA won’t expire until the end of 2016 (is that it?) so why not ask the questions, and then collate the data, and have answers.

    Let’s find out exactly whether these latest reports are correct. And let’s drag it out as long as possible. And then we will know only only the who, and the how, and the why along with the where and when.

    But what we really need is true zero tolerance. Ya tested positive? Ok you’re DONE.
    Forever.

    Long term contract in place? Cancelled
    Ability to serve a suspension and then get a NEW contract ? Not happening. .
    You can’t support your family now? That’s on you Get a real job.

    No suspensions. No fines – just permanent bans.

    Now if the clean players really want the sport to be clean, and they want their on reputations to remain unsoiled – then they The Players Association should do EVERYTHING they can to keep the sport clean, which means ratifying permanent bans, going along with increased random testing, and even pay for it (the testing) themselves; out of their union dues? And oh yeah, let the agents be involved in the cost of the testing as well.

    The sport will never get to be 100% clean, but the sooner they get to a point where the players basically police themselves and pay for accurate policing, and the sport is chemical free – the quicker the better.

    And even if we have to wait until 2017 for it – the fact that that is where we want to go, and be there =- is a good thing.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 30, 2013 at 6:16 PM

      The who, the why, and the how certain players seem to be unable to resist (basically what we learn from those questions) won’t get us to where we would like to go Which is chemical free baseball

      Why should the players be so concerned about a chemical free sport, when the sport has almost never been chemical free? What’s with the polyanna-ish reminiscing of what the sport used to be when we can read books, articles, newspaper reports of how the game really was? A flawed game played by flawed men and just marvel at what they can do?

      But what we really need is true zero tolerance. Ya tested positive? Ok you’re DONE.
      Forever.

      Long term contract in place? Cancelled
      Ability to serve a suspension and then get a NEW contract ? Not happening. .
      You can’t support your family now? That’s on you Get a real job.

      No suspensions. No fines – just permanent bans.

      And precisely what reason should the most powerful union in sports, the MLBPA, have to agree to any of this? The owners are subject to the terms of the CBA just like the players are. The only way this happens is if the players agree to the terms as well. And unlike capping bonuses in the draft/IFA where the players might be under the illusion that they’ll get a larger slice of the pie, agreeing to those above terms does exactly ZERO for the players, both current and future.

      • JustMeMike - Jan 30, 2013 at 7:12 PM

        Really – – ??

        are the players really saying we won’t agree to stronger measures and stronger punishments unless we are rewarded?

        Are the majority of the players really happy about the uneven playing field? And having their reputations sullied because the sport is dirty.

        And what ever the percentage of players that use PEDs, do you really believe that with the current levels of testing, that those players (who use PEDs) are in the majority?

        As former MLB Pitcher Al Leiter said on the MLB TV network show just last night – Jan 29 –
        when he referenced the original Mitchell report. Why would the 92% or 93% who weren’t using the Steroids, or whatever – want to protect the 7 or 8 percent that did?

        I understand that the owners and the players are in bed together beneath the blanket of money, but still – tying all of this mess up by saying that the Players Association will need to be rewarded before they’ll agree – makes it sound like the majority don’t mind the use of PEDs.

        If this is the case – then let them do whatever they want Why have any testing or banned substances.

        In any event you missed my point.Craig’s article was about the lack of questions emanating from Mitchell. My point was to say that asking key or even any questions about who, why, and how – will never achieve what the draconian measure will.

        Finally you speak of rewards – in my job – the use of drugs who would get you fired. That quickly and that easily. It was simple – you couldn’t do them at work, or on the company premises. The job I kept was my reward.

        .

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 30, 2013 at 8:42 PM

        I’m glad you skipped over my first question and instead went after the second. You seem to not understand how the CBA works. If side O(wners) want something from side P(layers), usually the wanting side has to give something up to get what they want. It’s how collective bargaining agreements work. I didn’t say whether it was right or wrong, but that’s how life works.

        are the players really saying we won’t agree to stronger measures and stronger punishments unless we are rewarded?

        I’m saying there’s no REASON for the players to agree to it without a reward. There’s nothing the owners can do now to implement stronger testing or change the drug program without the player’s agreeing to it as well. Drug testing, or lack thereof, has zero repercussions for the owners. The players take all the flak for it. So why shouldn’t they want some benefit for changing the rules that can only harm them?

        And what ever the percentage of players that use PEDs, do you really believe that with the current levels of testing, that those players (who use PEDs) are in the majority?

        I never said it was the majority; however, a union’s job isn’t to protect the majority or the minority. The job is to protect the entire union. It’s the reason the MLBPA was against guys like Frank Thomas offering to take a drug test by themselves. It set the precedent that other guys should offer to do it, and then the ones who didn’t would look bad.

        If this is the case – then let them do whatever they want Why have any testing or banned substances.

        You asked the question. Why should there be banned substances in professional sports?

        Finally you speak of rewards – in my job – the use of drugs who would get you fired. That quickly and that easily. It was simple – you couldn’t do them at work, or on the company premises. The job I kept was my reward.

        This is absolutely irrelevant. Most likely your job isn’t governed by a CBA. If it were, and you gave up rights/privileges/whatever without getting anything in return, you should speak to your union rep.

  11. bh192012 - Jan 30, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    “and it was the names that got all of the press” You realize that’s the media’s fault? Along with the players association who told the players not to talk “because he cannot pledge, that any information you provide will actually remain confidential”

    The only people he could get to talk were people who would plea bargain out. Why would a player get involved? There is no way it could benefit them unless they were selling a book. The only people who benefitted from talking were the dealers who got reduced sentences.

    Finally, some of those bullet points you talk about are partially realized by getting names. Like average user profile or when they start using (by looking at the spread of ages of the named etc.)

  12. stercuilus65 - Jan 30, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    Another thinly veiled long winded apologist exercise trying to deflect blame from the roiders that Craig loves to churn out on his soapbox.

    • jrobitaille23 - Jan 30, 2013 at 8:04 PM

      spot on

  13. tjg25 - Jan 30, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    A better study is why all these ignorant asses give a fuck about professional athletes using PEDs.

  14. JustMeMike - Jan 30, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    To the Church guy – who knows all the questions and has all the answers.

    Can the union and the Players never be on the same page – must it always be adversarial?
    Seems that not every one wanted the DH – so they agreed that the DH will not be every where. I wonder how that happened.

    If the thing is always adversarial, with give and takes, and money either a give or a take in most cases, if the owners say Never mind – no more banned substances, no more drug testing, and no more penalties – would the Players Union say – No thank you, we want drug testing, banned substances, and penalties for positive testing.

    I’m just saying that in my opinion – stronger remedial measures – like stiffer penalties – even extreme penalties and more stringent testing policies might work [b]as a response to Craig’s column [/b] which took Mr. Mitchell to task.

    Whether or not we have increased testing and stiffer penalties due to one side or the other being opposed is what is irrelevant. Craig took pains to point out what Mr. Mitchell did not say. My point is that what Mitchell did not say is also irrelevant.

    PS – do you want stronger punitive measures, with more stringent testing or not? I am only asking you what you’d prefer – and not what you think the union will or would do.

  15. chacochicken - Jan 30, 2013 at 11:39 PM

    All professional and amateur sports would benefit from knowing the answers Craig asks. While the Mitchell Report provide some insight into what was happening at the time, it and contemporary endeavors have done nothing to “clean” things up. That fact that the major sports organizations have not even quantified the actual performance-enhancing effects is really rather comical

  16. dirtydrew - Feb 2, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    I like the way the Mitchell report threw the book at the Giants and Peter McGowin, but never mentioned the Red Sox or Yankees who were loaded with ‘roiders.

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