Friday, December 14, 2007

Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 3

This is Part 3 in ShysterBall's micro-breakdown of the Mitchell Report. For Part 1, go here, for Part 2, go here.

In this installment, we look at Sections IV, V, and VI, which cover the notable incidents over the years which caused people to say, hey, there may be a steroids problem in baseball. No BALCO yet, though. That gets its own section.

Page 60:

Many baseball officials have pointed to the intense media scrutiny in August 1998 that followed the discovery of androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker as the event that focused their attention on whether baseball had a problem with the use of performance enhancing substances. There were earlier incidents and many published reports, but they were scattered across several years and around the country. Collecting and reading them all at once, as I have done, makes it obvious in hindsight what was happening.

While I tend to agree that there wasn't the sort of "intense media scrutiny" in 1998 such that baseball should have been at PED Defcon 1 the way some writers have suggested, this is yet another example of Mitchell subtly absolving baseball officials of inaction and inattention prior to 2002. Not that it isn't totally warranted, but I am coming to believe that the "pox on both of your houses" rhetoric from the news conference yesterday was more show than substance. At every turn, Mitchell seems to chalk up MLB's inaction to ignorance and the players' to stubbornness.

Pages 61-62:

In a widely reported incident during the Summer Olympics in September of 1988, the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint for testing positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid sold under the brand name Winstrol. 183 Days later, the first public speculation appeared about a player’s use of steroids in Major League Baseball.

In an appearance on the CBS program Nightwatch on September 28, 1998 [emphasis added] Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell described Jose Canseco as “the most conspicuous example of a player who has made himself great with steroids. . . .” Soon after Boswell’s remarks, the Oakland Athletics began the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.

Just for the record, this is the second time Mitchell finds himself in the wrong decade. As we speak, there is probably some poor associate at DLA Piper roasting on a spit over this.

Pages 63-65:

The Jose Canseco origin story. None of this is new to those who read Juiced. Much here about Tony La Russa's knowledge, however. Tony La Russa is the Teflon manager, though. No matter what he, his teams, or his players do, La Russa skates in the arena of public opinion, the "genius" label always quickly referenced before the "clueless," "irresponsible," or "inattentive," label can be applied. Well, how does "liar" fit you, Tony?

But when La Russa and McKay were interviewed in connection with this investigation, they both denied having direct knowledge that Canseco had used steroids. La Russa claimed that he had “exaggerated” in his CBS interview, that Canseco had never used the word “helper,” and that, in fact, La Russa had never confronted Canseco about his use of steroids. When asked why he would “exaggerate” on national television, La Russa said that he questioned Canseco’s motives in making the statements he had made and he felt that Canseco was trying to impugn the achievements of his former Oakland teammate Mark McGwire and the Oakland teams of the late 1980s.

His claim of exaggeration is then directly contradicted by Dave McKay's comments corroborating the things La Russa now denies. La Russa then freely admits that he kept his mouth shut and never shared his knowledge of his players' steroid abuse with baseball officials. Anyone want to bet whether La Russa is raked over a fraction of the coals as the players named in the report soon will be? I'm not holding my breath.

Page 67:

In 1991, the Players' Association anonymously surveyed its members regarding drug use. According to the report "only 1.5% reported using anabolic steroids during their lifetime, and only 0.5% reported use of steroids in the preceding 12 months." I'm sure it's impossible to find out now, but I'd really like to know who the handful of guys who actually admitted to taking steroids were. Are they the same kinds of guys who tell James Bond about their plot to take over the world right before leaving him to die in some impossibly convoluted killing machine from which he is sure to escape?

Pages 72-73:

The Caminiti story. Add Bruce Bochy to the list of managers who knew of use but later claimed ignorance.

Also in these pages, Peter Gammons and Bob Nightengale come off as particularly prophetic about this issue based on the stories they were writing in the mid 90s. Note also that those two guys aren't typically among those who foam at the mouth and engage in hyperbolic rants whenever Barry Bonds and steroids comes up these days. Good writers are good not only for their reporting, but for their perspective as well, and both Gammons and Nightengale have shown both over the years. The guys who were writing the lazy "the players are all greedy!"stories in the 90s are the same guys writing the lazy "the players are all cheaters!" stories now.

Pages 79-80:

When the McGwire/Andro story broke in 1998, the medical director for Major League Baseball, Dr. Robert Millman, called McGwire's most vocal critic, a sports medicine practitioner named Dr. Lewis Maharam, and told him that "everyone in Major League Baseball is irritated with you," said that some players were considering lawsuits. He then basically tried to buy Maharam's silence by bringing him in-house to lecture players about the dangers of steroids.

We're often told that the coverup is worse than the crime. This is a clear case of MLB trying to cover things up or, at the very least, silence criticism. Unfortunately, attacking the Dr. Millmans of the world doesn't sell many papers, and there is no Hall of Fame I am aware of from which we can ban him. Not that I think Millman was acting on his own when he reached out to Maharam. Doctors tend not to be the people who get outraged at bad press. Commissioners do. It gets worse a few pages later:

In the spring of 2006, shortly after this investigation was announced, Dr. Maharam received another call from Dr. Millman, who was by then no longer affiliated with Major League Baseball. According to Dr. Maharam, during that call, he said that he planned to speak with Senator Mitchell’s investigative team. Dr. Millman replied that he should be careful what he said about Major League Baseball because “[t]hey have a lot of power.” Dr. Millman did not respond to repeated requests by telephone and in writing to be interviewed as part of this investigation.

I have no desire to see Congress get involved in all of this, but if I were a counsel for some Senate subcommittee, the first subpoena I would prepare would be for Dr. Millman. The man clearly had marching orders to downplay PEDs, and felt intimidated enough by those orders and the people who gave them that he still feels the need to counsel silence. This is not evidence of obliviousness on the part of MLB. This is evidence of a coverup, and management and ownership should not be allowed to skate on it.

Page 87-88, regarding why baseball didn't conduct player interviews as knowledge of steroid use came to the fore:

Second, some senior baseball officials doubted the usefulness of player interviews. In the words of Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations, “interviewing players is not a productive exercise – there are no rats and players are not going to confess.” Manfred explained that “baseball is different from other industries because of the team mentality. These guys live together for 220 days a year.” This, in Manfred’s view, is the root cause of baseball’s clubhouse “code of silence.” It is a view shared by many of those we interviewed in this investigation.

I understand this -- and I realize that considerations of labor relations issues would complicate any effort to investigate PED use -- but this is the sort of thing that can be said about police officers and soldiers as well, and that doesn't stop IA and the MPs from investigating their charges. As Mitchell pointed out earlier, the issue of PEDs was never high on MLB's radar, except insofar as it was used as an empty bargaining chip. If baseball felt it was important enough, it could have pressed the issue. It didn't, and it should not now be given a pass simply because the task of rolling up its collective sleeves and doing the work necessary to get to the bottom of it looked to be daunting.

Page 91-94, the Manny Alexander and Ricky Bones stories:

While I've been focusing a lot on MLB's willful blindness to the steroids issue, let me be absolutely clear in agreeing with Mitchell that "probable cause" testing, which was championed by the union for so many years, is utterly laughable. Manny Alexander was given 45 days notice of his drug testing following the needles-in-the-Mercedes thing, which is way more than enough time to clean out the system. Same went for Rickey Bones after drugs were found in his locker. There are going to be all kinds of proposals that spin out of the Mitchell Report, and given the report's contents, I can't imagine that any of them will rely on probable cause testing all that much. If someone does propose such a thing, however, they should be roundly shouted down. Testing has to be random or else it simply won't work.

Pages 94-95:

Maybe this had been made public before, but it seems that players for a minor league affiliate for the Diamondbacks located in El Paso regularly crossed the border to get drugs for players on the big club. The team is called the Diablos, but it seems like the El Paso Mules would have been a better choice.

Page 95-99, the Juan Gonzales bag-at-the-airport story:

What strikes me about so many of the steroid stories we've learned over the years is how many flunkies these players rely on. There's always some personal trainer who carries the bag, some other guy that travels with them, and maybe some other guy who helps with injections or whatever. Ask yourself: if you're using illegal drugs, don't you want to keep the circle relatively small? Don't you want to limit the number of people on whom you rely? Diabetics manage to inject themselves all the time. Why can't ballplayers?

Pages 103-05, Palmiero, Tejada, and B-12 vitamins:

Palmiero's idiocy is well-documented by now. When Mitchell says that one can't tell if Palmiero had perjured himself in front of Congress because "it was impossible to determine whether Palmeiro had been telling the truth in his sworn testimony because, among other things, the four-week detection window for Winstrol was not long enough to conclude that Palmeiro had the steroid in his system at the time of his testimony, given the date of his urine test in May 2005," you can almost see his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

The rest of the section is all about B-12 injections, and it marks the first prominent mention of Miguel Tejada. Mitchell notes, however, that whatever it was that Tejada was injecting and calling "B-12," it didn't contain any illegal substances. Baseball told Tejada to cut it out though, and take his B-12 in pill form, solely on the basis that they didn't like needles in the clubhouse. I don't want to read too much into this, but it is yet another example of baseball officials being more concerned with the perception of a PED problem than the actual PED problem itself.

Page 110:

Tom Kelly once was presented with a used syringe a clubbie had found in the other team's clubhouse. Kelly told the clubbie to throw it away and didn't make any further mention of it because it was "none of his business" and was an issue for the other team to address. How they could address it given that Kelly was directing the disposal of the very thing to address remains a mystery. Then again, Kelly was always known as an even-keel guy who was big on clubhouse harmony, so I'm not surprised that don't-rock-the-boat approach extended to the other teams as well.

By the way, I'd like to take this opportunity to note just how fun it would have been for Billy Martin to be alive and managing in the steroids era. I can't decide if he'd be buying the stuff for his players himself or if he'd be personally challenging any suspected users to a fight in the alley.

Page 111:

In an article in 2006, a similar story was recounted by Paxton Crawford, a pitcher who was on the roster of the Boston Red Sox in 2000 and 2001. Crawford admitted to using steroids and human growth hormone while with the Red Sox. He described an incident in which syringes he had wrapped in a towel were spilled onto the floor of the Red Sox clubhouse, which he said caused laughter among his teammates.291 Crawford declined our request for an interview, saying that he did not “do that stuff anymore,” that he was sorry he had used those substances in the past and that he just wanted to be left alone.

In the course of this investigation, we interviewed 23 individuals who are, or had been, affiliated with the Red Sox organization including 6 persons who were with the Red Sox at the time of the reported events. While some said that they had suspicions about Crawford’s use of steroids when he was a player, no one could recall the incident that Crawford recounted in the article.

"See! I'm not biased! Twenty-three Red Sox, baby! Sure, it all predates 2004 so no one is going to suggest that the world championships are tainted, but dammit, I can tell on my own team!"

That's enough for this installment. Next up, big stuff: BALCO and Radomski.

Go here for Part 4.


Chris H said...

I'd just like to say that I truly appreciate your breakdowns of the report, as well as your commentary. The James Bond and Jeff Kent remarks in particular. :)

Shyster said...

At your service, Chris. It beats my paying job, that's for sure.

dubbschism said...

This is awesome. Seriously. I'm much appreciative of you taking your time to do this. And the entire time i'm reading i'm wondering "doesn't he have a real, big-time serious job he has to tend to?" I say quit.

It's always better on holiday. That's why we only work when we need the money. - FF

jnr98 said...

Well, said guys. It's nice to find a little corner of the blogosphere where we can find well-written, thought out, cogent, no-flaming prose.

or not (don't want Shyster's head getting Bonds-like)

Shyster said...

Thanks, Dubb. The beuty of being a professional is that you can, within limits, be the master of your schedule. All of the work I have to do at the moment (drafting pleadings mostly) is the kind of stuff I can do at home or at night or whatever. If I had a trial this week, I'd be toasted.

Of course, if some nice executive from ESPN or Fox or someplace wanted to offer me a job . . . ;-)

another lawyer not working today said...

I'm really really really really really really really enjoying this. Really.

Shyster said...

Thanks another lawyer. You'll be happy to see, then, that Part 4 is up!

David Nieporent said...

I understand this -- and I realize that considerations of labor relations issues would complicate any effort to investigate PED use -- but this is the sort of thing that can be said about police officers and soldiers as well, and that doesn't stop IA and the MPs from investigating their charges.

Good post -- good series -- but that isn't a very good analogy. IA and the MPs, as representatives of the government, have power.