Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 6

This is Part 6, the final installment in ShysterBall's micro-breakdown of the Mitchell Report. For Part 1, go here, for Part 2, go here, for Part 3, go here, for Part 4, go here, and for Part 5 go here.

The home stretch. Today we tackle the online pharmacies/rejuvenation centers, review the cons and cons of the current drug testing program, and chew over Mitchell's recommendations. Then we get to take a nap.

Pages 234-242:

Anatomy of Internet sales of steroids. Two kinds: (1) nasty, glorified street corner-style sales of potentially tainted PEDs that just happen to take place over the Internet; and (2) more sophisticated sales via a system of "rejuvenation centers" like Signature Pharmacy, effected by phony prescriptions.

The stuff about the producers who make their swill like bathtub gin in unsanitary Mexican factories was good reading and all, but there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that any baseball players bought PEDs from such places. Rather, it's all Signature Pharmacy and the other rejuvenation centers. Why then, aside from making this all look as seedy as possible, the street corner-style sales were included is a mystery to me.

Page 242:

Rick Ankiel, Paul Byrd, Jay Gibbons, Troy Glaus, Jose Guillen, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Gary Matthews, Jr., Scott Schoeneweis, David Bell, Jose Canseco, Jason Grimsley, Darren Holmes, John Rocker, Ismael Valdez, Matt Williams, and Steve Woodard all make the rejuvenation center hall of fame. Which brings us to yet another installment of Great Moments in Administrative Synergy:

The Commissioner’s Office conducted its own disciplinary interviews of the players who were still active at the time of the reports about their alleged possession or use. Players agreed to the interviews on the condition that the information they provided would not be shared with me by the Commissioner’s Office [emphasis added]. Either directly or in some cases through the Commissioner’s Office, I requested each of these 16 current and former players to meet with me to respond to the allegations about them in these reports. Other than Canseco, whose lawyer provided information in response to my inquiry, all of the players either declined or did not respond to my invitation.

What's that about? Had Selig lost so much faith in Mitchell by the time the Signature story was breaking that he was willing to sell out the very probe he had commissioned? As is the case throughout most of the report, Mitchell avoids editorializing. Maybe being 300 pages into this bad boy has me hallucinating, but I can almost here the bitterness in Mitchell's words on this point.

Jose Guillen, p. 249-50:

According to Mitchell, Jose Guillen paid for his HGH via wire transfer. Add that to checks and credit cards on the list of totally-traceable means of commerce ballplayers used to buy their PEDs. This is even more astounding for Guillen, in that he was the guy who, a couple of years ago, was found to be taking his salary checks to one of those seedy check cashing places rather than Bank of America or someplace. Note to Jose Guillen: you're supposed to use electronic wire transfers for your legitimate banking needs and cash for your drugs, not the other way around.

John Rocker, p. 253:

Rocker initially denied the [Applied Pharmacy] allegations, but his spokesperson later reportedly said that Rocker had been prescribed human growth hormone in connection with shoulder surgery.

John Rocker has a spokesman? Where was she back in December 1999 when Jeff Pearlman was asking him about the freaks on the 7 train?

Page 258, regarding the efficacy of the existing drug testing program:

As discussed earlier in this report, the program as originally adopted was the product of extended collective bargaining. It was an important first step in the effort to deal with what both parties agreed is a serious problem. Some improvements have been made to the program since program testing began in 2004. Additional improvements are necessary, however, to enable the program to keep pace with the evolving problems of illegal substance use.

I'm no expert on baseball's current drug testing regime. It sounds like a reasonable program to a lay person like myself, but there have been many, including many smart folks, who say it's riddled with loopholes. I suppose the extent to which that is true determines how much of the above-paragraph is an exercise in p.r.

Pages 259-262:

Mitchell reviews the development of testing standards by the U.S. and World Anti-Doping Agencies ("USADA" and "WADA"). He likes their standards and procedures, and identifies seven key characteristics of their programs. They are:

1. independence of the program administrator;
2. transparency and accountability;
3. effective, year-round, unannounced testing;
4. adherence to best practices as they develop;
5. due process for athletes;
6. adequate funding; and
7. a robust education program.

Get used to these standards, because they are going to be front-and-center as baseball attempts to address the Mitchell Report going forward. Query whether the increasing criticism of WADA and USADA as hysterical, non-scientific bodies will also be taken into account as baseball forges the path forward.

For now, Mitchell grades baseball's current program using those metrics. The results are not pretty:

  • While some steps have been taken towards independence, there is still too much player and management involvement in administering the program (See pp. 263-64);
  • There is a serious lack of transparency due to the automatic destruction of negative test data, which precludes periodic audits of testing operations, which Mitchell feels is an essential component of any successful testing program (See pp. 265-66);
  • Baseball's failure to test in the offseason means that, by definition, it is not running a state-of-the-art program. Here Mitchell provides the testing frequency for the NFL, NBA, and NHL, none of which test in the offseason either (See pp. 267-69); and
  • Best practices aren't being used in terms of sample collection, most notably as it relates to advanced notice provided to players, however unwittingly, and chain-of-custody issues with respect to the samples themselves. In terms of penalties baseball compares favorably to the other big leagues -- actually it's tougher -- but there is a lot of ambiguity about how it complies its list of banned substances, how so-called "therapeutic exemptions" (i.e. doctor's notes allowing players to used banned substances anyway) are granted, and a few other things (See pp. 269-78).

So whadda we gonna do about it?

Glad you asked! Mitchell has 21 pages on it (pp. 285-306), encompassing twenty specific policy proposals falling under three broad categories: (1) ratcheting-up the pursuit of non-testing evidence of drug use; (2) enhancing educational programs; and (3) adopting a state-of-the-art drug testing regime. Let's look at them, shall we?

1. Investigating "non-testing based" evidence of drug use.

Depending on how paranoid you are, this category means either taking a tougher stance on drug use or establishing a police state in Major League clubhouses. It certainly means granting Selig a lot more power. The most notable recommendation here is the proposed creation of a "Department of Investigations," whose leader would report directly to Bud and would, theoretically anyway, be able to police the clubhouses and terminate drug problems with extreme prejudice without having to worry about queering labor relations because, hey, this guy would be above that stuff.

Anyone who knows anything about baseball's labor history, however, knows that (a) the owners aren't going to be able to restrain themselves and will soon have baseball's version of Information Retrieval snooping into stuff that will help them out in that next contract negotiation or arbitration proceeding; and (b) the Players' Association will not trust the DoI even if Christ Almighty Himself comes down from Heaven and deems its acts and motives to be 100% pure. That's just how baseball and the union roll. Mitchell knows that, so I'm surprised that he leads with such a provocative proposal.

Other recommendations in this "non-testing based" investigatory realm:

  • Work more closely with law enforcement officials: Mitchell uses the example of his own investigation as evidence that the cops will work with baseball when asked. Maybe that's true, but I wonder if the precinct phone will be picked up as quickly when the guy calling is the 'roids Czar as opposed to the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader;

  • Have clubs use their power as the players' employer to investigate potential violations of the drug program: The narrative on this one (pp. 291-92) is stupid. Mitchell says that even though the Fergie Jenkins precedent prevents players from being punished for not cooperating with investigations while facing criminal charges for the same conduct, this shouldn't present a problem because players suspected of steroid use are rarely prosecuted. This is an overly-narrow reading of the Jenkins decision. The point there was that players shouldn't be punished for relying on their rights against self-incrimination. You still have those rights even if there is only a slight chance of prosecution. As such, you will forgive the players from taking Mitchell's word for it that they wouldn't be prosecuted if they told their GM that they just bought a bunch of illegal PEDs from Kirk Radomski's successor.

  • Have clear, written policies for reporting violations of the PED policy: Did you know that clubs who cover up drug use by a player is subject to a $2M fine? Me neither. I wonder if the new version of this rule will be named after Brian Sabean or, rather, the folks at that October 2003 meeting at Dodgers' HQ.

  • Log all packages sent to players at the ballpark: While it seems a bit Orwellian, anybody dumb enough to continue to have their HGH mailed to the ballpark after everything that has been reported in the past year deserves to have a figurative boot stamping on their face forever. This may cause some unexpected problems, though. I mean, how many pairs of groupies' panties addressed to Grady Sizemore and Jacob Ellsbury are the clubhouse personnel charged with logging packages going to tolerate before they simply quit?

  • Background checks and random drug testing of clubhouse personnel: Mitchell cites Radomski as why this is necessary. Hey, I think anyone who works in a place as sensitive as a Major League Clubhouse should have a background check, but we should probably remember that Radomski didn't become a drug dealer until after he got the job.

  • Establishment of a hotline for anonymous tips: I can't conceive of any possible way such a thing might be abused, could you?

  • Testing the top 100 draft-eligible prospects each year: Lesson #1 of the Mitchell Report is that it's the injured, borderline guys desperate to hang onto their jobs who are the ones more likely to be using. Testing a bunch of high-ceiling fresh-elbowed youngsters isn't going to hurt, but it ain't exactly addressing the problem at hand, is it? Of course, if this list morphs into an agenda item once the Collective Bargaining Agreement is reopened, look for the prospects to be thrown under the bus almost immediately. They ain't in the union, and the union doesn't look out for them. Ever.

2. Enhancing Educational Programs.

I won't bullet-point these (you can read the five recommendations yourself at pp. 298-302) because they all basically boil down to "will somebody tell these bumpkins that steroids are bad already?! The only exception is the proposal to put on "scared straight" testimonials during spring training. This could either work really well or fail miserably. Failure would be the result if you trotted out, say, Jason Giambi to talk about how his life was "ruined" by steroids while pretending that he didn't receive a massive contract and zero punishment due to his steroid use. Success would be the result if you hired Jose Canseco to come out and just talk, agenda-free, about his life. If players using PEDs were subjected to that they'd make a beeline for the nearest john in order to flush their stash ASAP lest they become a spooky-lookin', self-absorbed douchebag too.

3. Adopting State-of-the-Art Testing.

Most of this section (pp. 302-306) deals with optimizing baseball's testing regime along the seven parameters outlined above. Mitchell wants it to look as much like the Olympic system as possible, complete with defacto WADA approval. I'll let the doping experts weigh in on whether that's possible or even desirable. I can, however, see a p.r. benefit for baseball if it were to at least talk about WADA-compliance being the goal, and that would be to shift scrutiny to the other professional sports leagues.

How? Easy. While Thursday sucked for baseball, it marked the moment the clock started counting down to the day when no one really cares about steroids in baseball anymore. That may be many many years from now, but between now and then, the public and the media's outrage will soften. Soon someone important is going to write the "baseball has come a long way since the Mitchell Report" article, and it will soon be followed by the "why isn't the NFL aiming as high as baseball?" Maybe that's a petty and cynical way to look at all of this, but as a baseball nut, I get angry whenever fans of a league in which 6'6" 375 pound dudes who can run a 4.4/40 have the nerve to tell me that the NFL's PED issues are under control. Baloney. I wanna see them squirm the way I've squirmed over the past five years.

Pages 307-311, Conclusions and the Future:

Mitchell parroted most of the stuff found in these wrap-up sections during his Thursday presser. Players dragged their feet, but the owners didn't press the issue. Everyone should look forward, not back, so that the recommendations in the report can be adopted rather than have everyone air dirty laundry, end up in litigation, etc. Selig should abstain from punishing anyone in the report unless the conduct was so serious as to risk the integrity of the game (note that nowhere in these hundreds of pages did Mitchell suggest that the integrity of the game was so-threatened). The offenses are mostly old news. Many if not most of the players are out of the game or soon will be. Perhaps most importantly, Mitchell acknowledges that "there is much I did not learn." I take that as a nod by Mitchell to the notion that he has based almost all of this report on BALCO and Radomski.

Let's consider that for a moment. While I may be painting with a slightly broad brush, it can be said that BALCO catered to some hyper-elite athletes who either didn't believe that they could ever be caught or didn't care. Radomski -- the only drug dealer I've ever known to take personal checks and credit cards -- catered to, well, the less mentally-gifted. The vast majority of ballplayers can be expected to fall somewhere in between those extremes, and there's a good chance that they're not in this report because of it. No matter the case, it can't be disputed that we're dealing with a thin slice of players and circumstances here -- and how much thinner would it have been if Radomski hadn't fallen into Mitchell's lap a year after he started the investigation -- and as such, to base any broad judgments on this report would be folly.

But upon reading all 409 pages of this thing, I know one thing: the report can't be dismissed. Even if it's dealing with a small subset of data, I see no evidence that the data is false, nor do I see any reason to believe that the small sample size is likely to mislead us in any material way. Despite its shortcomings, the Mitchell Report confirms, as we knew it would, that baseball has had a PED problem for many years. Only the most ignorant observers will say that the report is shocking, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful.

I know another thing too: I'm tired, as those of you who have made it through all six installments of this bad boy must be too. Let's all get some rest, shall we?


Drew said...

If we're talking about offseason testing in the same article as Roger Clemens, it begs the question of if you can test a guy like him, who "retires" every year, then comes back to play once the season has started. I can't imagine MLB has the right to test someone who isn't under contract with a baseball club. Given that, if offseason testing were implemented, what kind of impact could it have on the contract landscape?

bigcatasroma said...

I, too, can't wait for the day that fans of the NFL get to squirm. Because Ray Lewis' size is "legitimate" because he gets tested. PUH-lease . . .