December 20, 2014

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Tim Dahlberg: Mitchell Report lacks teeth

In the end, it was only appropriate that George Mitchell gave baseball a report on steroids that looked like it was on steroids.
Bloated up like Barry Bonds, it was too much for even the commissioner of baseball to fully digest, though Bud Selig promised that he would stay up nights if needed to slog his way through all 409 pages.
He doesn’t need to bother, because a quick read turns up only these two questions about the whole steroid mess:
Who is Cody McKay, and who would have thought big, bad Roger Clemens was so squeamish about needles?
The answer to the first one didn’t take all that long to find out. Turns out McKay was a lifer in the minor leagues who turned to steroids to get the extra boost he needed to make it to the bigs and ended up playing 37 games over two seasons in the majors before lack of talent finally overcame the miracle of modern chemistry.
Clemens is another story. He’s one of the greatest pitchers ever, if you believe the record books, and his intimidation and meanness on the mound was a big reason he won seven Cy Young awards and could still throw in the mid-90s while in his mid-40s.
Who would have thought he had to ask someone else to shoot him up and preferred steroids over human grown hormone because he didn’t have to get a “belly button shot.”
The big news out of the Mitchell report, of course, was the outing of Clemens, something that had to make Bonds feel a bit better even if the only thing Clemens stands to lose is his reputation and ticket to the Hall of Fame. Bonds and his supporters have long implied that racism was the reason he was targeted, while the media looked the other way with players like Clemens.
Actually, the reason was that there was some evidence against Bonds while there were only rumors and Jose Canseco’s claims about Clemens. That, of course, changed when Clemens’ own personal trainer told Mitchell he gave the pitcher injections of different steroids on numerous occasions when he was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays beginning in 1998.
Mitchell’s people didn’t stop there. They nailed Andy Pettitte, fingered Miguel Tejada and implicated a slew of All-Stars including Eric Gagne. Paul Lo Duca comes across looking like a two-bit street dealer, there were some juicy new details about Bonds himself, and we finally found out why former pitcher Kevin Brown was perpetually surly despite making $15 million a year.
They even detailed a steroid party in an Albuquerque apartment, where Lo Duca and four minor league teammates got together before a game to shoot each other up in hopes it would help them get called up to the Dodgers later that year.
All in all, a pretty impressive piece of work considering players refused to talk and the players’ union stonewalled him at every chance. But even Mitchell admitted it was just a peek into the sleazy underbelly of baseball, where who knows how many players spurred on by the success of Canseco 20 years ago couldn’t wait to get their hands on drugs that would help them play better.
“I reported what I learned but I acknowledge, and even emphasize, the obvious,” Mitchell said. “There is much about performance-enhancing substances in baseball that I did not learn.”
For that, a lot of players (Sammy Sosa anyone?) can be breathing easier. So can a lot of general managers and owners who kept signing players to huge contracts even though they knew they were juiced.
Gagne was an example of that. The Red Sox knew the Dodgers did not re-sign him in part because they believed he was using steroids, yet traded for him anyway. General manager Theo Epstein asked a scout in an e-mail if Gagne was “a steroid guy,” and the scout replied that “steroids IS the issue.”
Likewise, the Dodgers traded Lo Duca to the Marlins in 2004 when they thought he wasn’t hitting hard drives to the outfield anymore because he was off steroids. In an internal memo of a staff discussion, their only concern was that if he was traded he would get back on steroids and have a great year because that was his makeup.
It’s all included in what should be regarded as an excellent report considering the circumstances. Except for one thing.
It has no teeth.
Mitchell himself took some of the fangs out of it by saying he believes the past should be the past and that baseball should move forward without penalizing anybody. The approach worked in Northern Ireland, he let us know on two different occasions, where the peace he brokered a few years back still holds.
But this isn’t Northern Ireland. We’re not at war with each other.
This is our national pastime, and we want somebody to be held accountable.
For 20 years now we’ve had clubs take our money while players made a mockery of the game and its records. For the better part of two decades we haven’t known whether to believe teams won the World Series because they had better players or because their players had better steroid connections.
Just this week Marion Jones was stripped of her five Olympic medals and banned from even buying a ticket to the Beijing Games because of her steroid use. That’s what getting tough on drug cheats means, and I’m sure everyone in track and field got the message.
Selig did vow to mete out some punishment of his own, assuming he ever gets done reading the report. Judging from the 15-day suspension that Jose Guillen got for human growth hormone, don’t expect much, just as you shouldn’t expect clubs to stop both enabling and encouraging cheating.
While baseball pats itself on the back for the Mitchell report, it hasn’t stopped owners from spending huge money on tainted players. The Royals signed Guillen to a $36 million deal, Pettitte got $16 million from the Yankees and the Astros wanted Tejada so bad they traded five players for him. The Brewers gave Gagne $10 million for the upcoming season, and you can be sure someone will sign Bonds.
Mitchell did his best. He named names, pointed fingers and offered solutions.
But about the only concrete thing that will come out of his report will be that Roger Clemens finally retires for good.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.