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George Mitchell

{Roger Clemens has been indicted–INDICTED–for supposedly misleading Congress.  When we are faced with the Charlie Rangels of the world, who will never be indicted, are we supposed to get morally excited about a baseball player who 1) even if he did take “performance enhancing” substances did nothing illegal and 2) did nothing half so damaging to the republic as most members of Congress have done every year of their lives?  Please review the arguments I made at the time of the Mitchell Report and see what you think.}

Four score and several baseball players have been accused of cheating by in one way or another ingesting “performance enhancing” substances such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

The accuser? Former Senator George Mitchell of Maine, a shameless Democrat who gained fame by lecturing Oliver North on patriotism during the Iran-Contra hearings. Although he could find merit in the Nicaraguan communist regime, later on he patiently tried to mediate, without moral judgment, the incredibly complicated histories of Northern Ireland and the Middle East. He also weighed in early on the ecological muddle that Mr. Gore has parlayed into a Nobel Peace Prize. The former Senator has apparently scored big against baseball, lecturing to us once again about an issue that most ordinary Americans understand far better than he does.

Mitchell’s pretentiously titled “private” report to Bud Selig and major league baseball, REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER OF BASEBALL OF AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO THE ILLEGAL USE OF STEROIDS AND OTHER PERFORMANCE ENHANCING SUBSTANCES BY PLAYERS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, has ruined or attempted to ruin the reputations of athletes who now have the difficult position of trying to prove a negative.

The report fails fundamental tests of fairness and honesty. The evidence he presents is at best flawed and at worst is manufactured.

Thousands of sports writers have jumped on Mitchell’s bandwagon, accepting uncritically what the report says about men who live lives about which they know very little, but which they get to criticize without having to suffer the consequences of their ignorance.

Former Senator Mitchell is in the same position. It would be interesting to have the players’ association commission a study of his personal and political ethics, with nothing at stake and, as Mitchell himself says, a “standard of evidence was not necessary.” Imagine finding a few disgruntled hangers-on who were willing to say that Mitchell did this or that, and giving them a forum completely protected from retribution. How would former Senator Mitchell, or most of his colleagues (or most of us), stand up to that?

One gets the impression that many of the people who accept the report uncritically have not read it. Any good teacher, getting Mitchell’s work as a term paper, would reject it without hesitation. Its evidence is weak. Its very bulk should make it suspect: how many words does it take to say that players cheat? It is cloaked in pseudo-scholarship about the history of drugs in baseball and the effects of drugs on performance. But when the report pushes aside the beans and gets down to the pork it relies on a few documents and a few very suspect witnesses to smear players who have, however bloated their salaries are, no way adequately to respond.

The report doesn’t mention the cases of the “everybody knows” players like Mark Maguire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. It doesn’t bring up the “we all know about” players like Ivan Rodriguez. Since there is no evidence against them except that they played well and looked strong, pygmy accusers are reduced to rumor-mongering or, in the case of the arrogant and unpopular Bonds, going through a perjury gotcha, the fallback position that government increasingly takes when it can’t find anything wrong.

Instead, seeking validation for an investigation that should never have taken place (or should have taken place under far better controlled circumstances), former Senator Mitchell names other names, making sure to include a few that are guaranteed to appeal to the lust of an uninformed public. He claims, sounding innocent enough, that he gave every player whose name he was to defame an opportunity to talk with him. The hubris of this attitude aside, why would any man agree to prostrate himself before an extra-legal committee to answer the equivalent question, “when did you stop beating your wife?” Their refusal Mitchell takes to be a sign of guilt, and therefore their names are put into the public arena, to be given thumbs down in the media.

Former Senator Mitchell relies on strained logic. He says that the witnesses his report depends upon for its credibility were interviewed in the “presence of federal law enforcement agents who informed [them] that if they made false statements they would subject themselves to possible criminal jeopardy. So there was very strong incentives [sic] to tell the truth.” In fact, the two, the only two, key witnesses in his investigation are both men on whom law officers have the goods and whose only motives for naming names is to get prosecutorial leniency.

One of the two key witnesses is Brian McNamee. He was Roger Clemens’ trainer, apparently a good one, but also the man who said that he produced Clemens’ success in 1998 and after with “performing enhancing” drugs. McNamee is a loser, a baseball wannabe who hung around the Yankees (after leaving the New York City police force for reasons nobody has yet disclosed) until he conned a job as a strength and conditioning coach. He met Clemens in Toronto, moved back to the Yankees with him, was fired after a murky date rape charge, and was later nabbed by authorities for having passed along various drugs to athletes in his care. He was the one who gave up Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite as part of an apparent plea bargain.

Roger Clemens is not the centerpiece of the Mitchell Report, but he has become the centerpiece of the media reports, so it is fair to judge what former Senator Mitchell has done on the basis of his charges against one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. Read pages 167-175 of the report as posted online. Two things stand out: first, there are no sources of evidence against Roger Clemens except Brian McNamee; second, Roger Clemens did not talk with former Senator Mitchell. Does this justify the rush to judgment by hundreds of sports writers? Does this give us any reason to believe Mitchell (or McNamee) and not to believe Clemens, who through his lawyer (and now on taped releases) has categorically denied the charges? We should perhaps presume in favor of the man who threw the pitches and not the men who threw only charges. Indeed, former Senator Mitchell “did not think a standard of evidence was necessary.”

His excuse, according to the Associated Press, is that it was a “private inquiry.” It was, in fact public from the moment that Major League Baseball commissioned it. To say that Mitchell is disingenuous on this point is to give it a very generous interpretation.. For him to use this as an excuse for the public execution of reputations is dishonorable. It also protects everybody involved in the report. According to Chicago attorney Keith Scherer, neither Clemens nor anybody else accused in such a manner has legal options to reply unless they can prove the negative, show malice, and are willing to expose virtually all aspects of their private lives to an investigative process. As Mr. Scherer says, “It’s hard to imagine a baseball player who would want to let that kind of information out of the can.” Or any other citizen, for that matter.

Former Senator Mitchell’s report does not address several larger problems, although they sit there like an elephant in the living room. What, for example, is “performance enhancing?” Various sports give varying answers, but nobody, including (and especially) the Food and Drug Administration knows very much about what enhances what and what harms what.

A young football player friend of mine told me about twenty years ago that anabolic steroids definitely made him stronger and more aggressive. Well, so did the whiskey that Celtic armies drank for centuries, before they painted their bodies blue and attacked whoever was in sight. Or, to take a specific and homey example, Gaylord Perry entitled his memoir Me and the Spitter. Should we asterisk his 315 wins or haul him out of the Hall of Fame because he admittedly doctored a baseball any way he could? Is a spitball less an edge than an injection? Both, in baseball, are illegal.

What about cortisone, or other pain killing treatments that athletes in all sports have been using from the moment they became available? What’s the difference between shooting up to mask pain and Andy Pettite taking some HGH to help his elbow heal a little quicker? In fact, many almost universally accepted pain killers are as destructive to the human body as steroids, which, by the way, are themselves widely used for medical purposes. The potential for hypocrisy is present in any intelligent conversation about such complicated topics. Hypocrisy is rampant in former Senator Mitchell’s report. This is too complicated a medical issue to leave to unsubstantiated charges.

It is also a complicated moral issue. One should probably end criticism of Mitchell’s unfortunate report with the usual disclaimers about the dangers and immorality of using performance enhancing drugs. Well…no. Professional athletes are warriors. Their professional lives are short, their lifespans are short (they die about 15 years on average before the rest of us), and despite the impression most people have about their salaries, there are many, many more millionaire drug dealers, doctors, and trial lawyers than there are millionaire athletes. Really good athletes are special people. We should cherish them, and create a climate that encourages them to be men and women of honor, and not to cheat; and spend our investigative energy on the creeps that are truly dangerous to us.

Former Senator Mitchell needs to be reminded that he isn’t the ethical arbiter in this case. Didn’t he say to Lt. Col. North, “please remember, that it is possible for an American to disagree with you…and still love God, and still love this country, just as much as you do. Although He is regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics?” Good point, George. He doesn’t take sides in American baseball, either.

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2 replies to this post
  1. As a follow-up, I wrote this when the Mitchell Report came out but it becomes relevant now that Roger Clemens is being hounded by the federal tyranny for "lying" to Congress, when Congress has no more forensic evidence that it did when the report was first issued. Will Charlie Rangel be indicted? Or any other politician who lies to us?

  2. I agree that witnesses who have their backs against the wall shouldn’t be given plea bargins to testify against others. But think about it. If the evidence points to those rats, weeeellll, jeez, do you think they as dealers and non players were taking all those drugs themselves? Very Doubtful. But you are absolutely right, their testimony is wrong. If the police cant nail you, they haven’t done their job. If they can’t detect these drugs in the blood, why follow up? I’m not an expert, maybe someone else can point this out.

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