Dope Springs Eternal

Slate writers and editors dissect the Mitchell report.

As soon as former Sen. George Mitchell released his reporton steroids and baseball—you can read the whole thing in PDF form or read all of the best material in Bonnie Goldstein’s Hot Document—a group of Slate staffers started kicking around the implications. What would happen to the players whose names were named, like Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Paul Lo Duca? How should Commissioner Bud Selig respond? Who will the main characters be in The Mitchell Report: The Movie? Read our whole discussion below.

Josh Levin: OK, George Mitchell just wrapped up his speech. He wants to point out that these allegations of drug use are between two and nine years old. This was a time when baseball made many changes, from limited probable cause testing to mandatory random testing. He wants the media and fans to pay the most attention to the report’s conclusions and recommendations. So, let’s ignore the conclusions and recommendations. What’s your favorite name in the Mitchell report? Here’s the list of players.

John Swansburg: My favorite name in the report might be Eric Gagne’s. I’ve long thought that Gagne’s record of 84 consecutive save chances converted has been overlooked as an absolutely absurd achievement. The Dodgers used to display the words Game Over on the Jumbotron when Gagne would trot out for the ninth, and it wasn’t empty boasting. That record, too, has an asterisk now.

Robert Weintraub: My favorite name on the list is Chuck Knoblauch. Does this mean his inability to throw from second to first is because of juicin’? Funny how there aren’t any BoSox on the list, save Gagne, whom they want to erase all traces of anyway.

Levin: Mitchell is “a director of the Boston Red Sox,” whatever that means, thus the conspiracy theorizing about why there aren’t any Red Sox on the list.

Chris Wilson: Josias Manzanillo threw one game for the Red Sox in ‘91, in which he walked three and let two runs score in one IP.

Weintraub: After which, he was taken to the team’s “Dianabol Room” and told to go nuts. Guess ‘roids don’t help your control.

Levin: Harold Reynolds is arguing on that this report exonerates everyone who isn’t named—that this is going to be the document that people look back on. So, are guys like Albert Pujols who’ve been accused in the past now off the hook?

Stephen Metcalf: Exonerates no one; it’s a random dipstick. Also, some perspective: We now essentially know that McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens cheated. Granted, it would be nice to see Pujols and A-Rod. But Bonds is the career and single-season home-run leader, and Clemens the best pitcher of his generation, if not beyond. These are big, big gets. Check out the Yahoo! splash page and the Times. Huge story.

Jody Rosen: Radomski = Greatest snitch ever. The Willie Mays of snitches. This is fascinating reading. Loving the details on Roger Clemens’ needle-phobia. Couldn’t bear to shoot himself up—he had his “trainer” Brian McNamee do the injections. Still, Clemens didn’t like HGH: He “told [McNamee] that he did not like the ‘bellybutton shot.’ “

Levin: Still reading through the report’s long (long, long) history section. It’s helpful, at least, to have the entirety of baseball’s Steroids Era—from Canseco to Lenny “Real Good Vitamins” Dykstra to McGwire to Juan Gonzalez and on and on—documented in a single place. All of these narratives seem to involve a put-upon mule who’s left holding the duffel bag. Both Canseco and Gonzalez passed off stashes of steroids as belonging to their lackeys. And it’s hard to escape the conclusion that baseball players have tons of money and a lot less shame. Best passage in the report so far: “Radomski said that he sent human growth hormone to [pitcher Kevin] Brown by overnight mail. … Soon thereafter, Radomski returned home one day to find an express delivery package from Brown on his doorstep, wet from the rain. When he opened it, he found that it contained $8,000 cash.”

John Swansburg: How are the Astros feeling about their Tejada deal?

Will Saletan: Texas teams specialize in redeeming miscreants, or at least picking them up cheap. Though usually Jerry Jones is the one showing up with the bail bondsman.

Swansburg: The Rangers, however, seem to have passed: “In December 2005, Texas Rangers owner Thomas O. Hicks and general manager Jon Daniels engaged in an email exchange about possible trade discussions. In one email, Daniels stated that he had ‘some steroids concerns with Tejada,’ and cited Tejada’s decreased productivity over the second half of the 2005 season.”

Levin: I just finished printing out the whole 409 pages of the report. (I have lost the Green Challenge.) I’ve only read the first couple of pages—the summary and recommendations—but I’m already thinking about the movie version. From Page 1: “We identify some of the players who were caught up in the drive to gain a competitive advantage through the illegal use of these substances.” A young Paul Lo Duca, armed with nothing but a will to win and some Dodger Stadium stationary …

Chris Wilson: “Meanwhile, a kid named Kirk Radomski, who grew up in the shadow of Shea Stadium, starts hanging around the clubhouse and helping the Mets out as a batboy …”

Levin: I guarantee that Batboy: The Rise and Fall of Kirk Radomski (or maybe The Unnatural) will be a major motion picture in the next two years. It’s like Blow meets Almost Famous meets Major League.

Daniel Engber: OK, so no one thinks there are any serious ramifications for the players named. So, the only point of naming anyone is to associate the problem (cheating) with specific villains (the players), which helps the owners put pressure on the players’ association. Maybe the list brings shame to certain players. But how much shame is left to spread around, once you’ve got 60 or 80 names? It’s hard to care that much when so many players are involved. But as a partisan Mets fan, I’m interested in relative numbers of Mets and Braves on the list, or Mets and Yankees. The Mitchell report is great for team rivalries!

Rosen: Sorry, but the net effect of this is a whitewash. A lot of HGH-using All Stars breathing easier today.

Jack Shafer: Mitchell’s comparison of his MLB steroid investigation to his brokering of the N. Ireland peace talks is worth a horse laugh: We should forgive and forget the steroid users for the same reason the Irish are supposed to forgive and forget, to paraphrase him. Equating widespread cheating with a nasty civil war seems bizarre. Does he really think an excess of finger-pointing in baseball circles will restart steroid use the way finger-pointing in N. Ireland will restart the war?

Metcalf: The analogy to peace in Northern Ireland admittedly shows a lack of taste and proportion; but it doesn’t deserve The Full Shafer. The point is: Are we going to repair the sport, or squabble and finger-point into eternity?

Rosen: You’re right, Steve, but … seems to me there’s a big lie at work here. Selig just waxed all grandiloquent about baseball having to reckon with its past in order to move on. But of course Mitchell has given us a tiny snapshot of a huge epidemic: a ridiculously incomplete picture of the past, based almost entirely on the testimony of a single snitch who kept good records, probably so he’d have a get-out-of-jail-free pass. Which makes me feel kind of bad for the players who’ve been named in this report. And makes today feel like bullshit ceremony: an occasion for Selig to stand up and say we get it, it’s over, and we’re officially launching the “post-steroids era.” Is there language in the Mitchell Report to this effect—does he cop to telling just a small part of the story?

Bill Smee: On NPR just now, Mitchell was interviewed and admitted that he has no idea what the scope of the problem is/was—that his report documents just what he was able to learn. I completely agree with Jody that this smacks of “let’s all turn the page” now that we’ve drawn up a list of villains.

Shafer: What exactly was the purpose of the Mitchell investigation? It seems like it’s the equivalent of hitting the reset button for the players and the leagues—what’s past is past, let’s play ball.

Wilson: I believe Tony Soprano would call this the omerta. Page 88: “In the course of this investigation, examples of the ’code of silence’ were abundant. … In our interview of him, one former player told of annual players-only meetings during which teammates reminded one another that any personal information they learned during the season needed to be kept in ’the family.’ ” (The bold is mine.)

Engber: What are these “annual player’s-only meetings”?  Are those union meets?

Rosen: No, no, no: annual July Fourth Clambake and Key-Party at the Clemenses.

Andy Bowers: I’m really confused about the legal status of the Mitchell report. So federal prosecutors pressured these guys McNamee and Radomski to name names to an extra-legal investigation whose only result is apparently to forever ruin the reputations of these athletes?

It would be one thing if all the named players were actually charged with crimes, so that they could mount formal defenses. But it seems the result of this will just be to keep Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame without giving him a chance to defend himself (not that I have many doubts about his guilt, but that’s not the point).

It seems a bit unfair to give Mitchell the benefit of pressure from federal prosecutors and even a plea bargain without giving the players the benefit of a formal way to clear their names. Could the players sue for libel?

Metcalf: Let Clemens sue; the discovery process would be a valuable addition to the report. The story feels fatigued already. No subpoena power, they luck into a couple of tattlers, the names feel familiar. Headliners are Clemens and Pettite and maybe Lo Duca. Eyebrow-raiser: the union tipping off players or maybe teams about impending tests. How does Clemens respond? He’s the poster boy here.

Rosen: Anyone notice the excerpt from Peter Gammons’ fawning 2001 article about the Clemens workout regimen? He quotes a Yankees “apprentice trainer” as saying: “He’s one of the first players in every morning, runs, does his program with Andy Pettitte, does the team program workout, goes to the weight room, leaves, plays 18 holes of golf and finally meets (trainer) Brian McNamee at 6 … and a few other players—for another workout. It’s incredible how much energy Roger has.”

Swansburg: ESPN just reported that Jose Canceco showed up at the Mitchell presser but was denied access by security!

Rosen: Denied access by security!?!? And he didn’t pick security, and hurl security, discus-style, into a different ZIP code? Must be off the juice. And Steve’s right, it’s all about Clemens. As Mike & the Mad Dog just pointed out, it’s a total he said-she said: no paper trail on Roger. Will be interesting to see how he reacts. In any case, I think this gives us some insight on that whipping-the-bat-at-Piazza episode in the 2000 World Series. ‘Roid rage, much? A Mike & the Mad Dog caller just pointed out how many 2000 World Champion Yanks are on the list: Clemens, Pettitte, Knoblauch, Justice, Stanton. Umm … asterisk time? Or maybe just give the trophy to the Mets?

Metcalf: Clemens is going to hover his little pumpkin head above a podium and play wounded (“the sport I love,” etc.), then make noises about legal this and legal that. But if he actually does file papers, which he won’t, then the Yankee guy (McLamee? Whatever, who cares) can file his own in return—i.e., libel charges right back at Clemens. Not to get too meta, but we get so quickly immersed in a he-said, she-said vortex, we forget that events actually happened in time and space, and the firsthand participants know what is true and what is fancy. If nothing else, the takeaway from Marion Jones, Floyd Landis, and Palmeiro is that prideful indignation on the part of the accused has zero probative value, especially from someone whose fallback career was … what again? And speaking of indignation, my auto-content wizard has already written a piece about Clemens, Bonds, and race.

Rosen: Yeah, spot on re: Clemens and Bonds. Let’s see how quickly Clemens does or doesn’t lose his endorsement deals, etc. Hey, has anyone tallied the number or pitchers vs. position players? I’ve always heard rumors that pitchers were on the juice in greater numbers because it helped with recovery between appearences.  

Engber: And catchers, for the same reason. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that was HGH, for the most part—a drug which, unlike steroids, MAKES BASEBALL MORE FUN FOR THE FANS. Steroids make players bigger and stronger, which changes the game (for the worse) by boosting homeruns and strikeouts. HGH helps them recover from injuries, which changes the game (for the better) by keeping the best players on the field.

Also, does Clemens really have endorsement deals?

Wilson: In the meantime, we could put together one hell of a diagram on how these guys got drawn in. A lot of them met Radomski through another player, often a Met, who was already buying from him.I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet that lists the 53 players that the report links to Radomski. Nineteen are pitchers and another eight are catchers—both groups seem overrepresented. Also worth noting: These 53 guys have more than 50 All-Star appearances between them.

Weintraub: The problem with that approach is that no one thinks this is a complete and total list—it’s guys who used from Radomski, McNamee, and BALCO. There are plenty of guys around baseball grinning to themselves over the fact they weren’t named. 

Swansburg: I’m curious to see how the fans will react in ‘08 to a guy like Pettitte. It’s pretty easy to taunt Barry Bonds with steroid-themed chants when he brings his smug show to town. But Pettitte, with his Roman nose and stoic manner, has always seemed like a likeable guy—the kind of Yankee even a Red Sox fan feels obliged to tip his cap to. Will he be heckled?

Engber: Now we know the real source of Pettite’s “Power for Living.” God and juice. Nice job working the angles!

Levin: Mitchell writes: “Radomski also provided me with a number of documents relating to his transactions with players in Major League Baseball, including copies of deposited checks that he retrieved from his banks.” I admit to never buying steroids from a batboy, so forgive my naivete, but isn’t it weird that all of these guys were writing Radomski checks? What happened to buying drugs with wads of cash? If I’m in the market for a drug dealer, I’m not looking for the guy who takes personal checks.

Wilson: They even sign the checks the same way they sign baseballs, with big, loopy illegibility. I’ve been comparing them with autographed cards online, exactly the same.

Chadwick Matlin: There’s that great scene in Friday Night Lights where Smash visits the bodybuilder to get his steroids. In his hand? A giant wad of cash he got from his local church.

Engber: Predictably, the Mitchell Report lumps together players who took anabolic steroids with players who took HGH.

The authors of the report are forced to admit that there’s no good reason to condemn the use of HGH, either on medical grounds or to preserve the sanctity of the sport. According to pages 9-10: “A number of studies have shown that use of human growth hormone does not increase muscle strength in healthy subjects or well-trained athletes. Athletes who have tried human growth hormone as a training aid have reached the same conclusion. … [A]thletes use it [instead] to promote tissue repair and to recover from injury.”

In other words, it just helps players get off the disabled list faster. Is that really something to wring our hands over? The report goes on to say there are “potentially severe adverse side effects” to using HGH, including acromegaly and gigantism. And it goes on to list “possible side effects” like cancer, impotence, menstrual irregularities in women, and arthritis.

In fact, acromegaly and gigantism are generally associated life-long pituitary defects, not HGH injections. And the “possible side effect” of cancer has been associated with acromegaly, not HGH treatment itself. To be sure, regular use of HGH has side effects—fluid retention, joint swelling, carpal tunnel, and diabetic symptoms. But these are nothing compared to the effects of anabolic steroids.

In the absence of any coherent reasons to condemn the use of HGH, the report goes on to speculate that illegal HGH might be dangerously contaminated, since, for example, it was once (20 years ago) derived from cadavers with Creutzfeldt-Jakob (i.e., mad cow) disease. And that athletes might infect themselves with Hep C or HIV by using dirty growth-hormone needles.

Metcalf: Question: Setting aside our animus for politicians, do we want Congress to get involved? That is, someone with the power to compel binding testimony? Related question: This (Mitchell) was a means of fending off Congress. Is Congress placated? Or revving up?

Weintraub: Seldom does one ever want to defend politicians, but it was Congress that got this ball rolling in the first place (thanks to Canseco).

Levin: I have no doubt that Henry Waxman and Tom Davis will find a way to turn this into an opportunity for pointless posturing and grandstanding, just like they did in 2004. As Mitchell admits in the report, the vast majority of the cases that he’s writing about happened between two and nine years ago. Is there anything new in here that requires Congress to act?

Metcalf: Right, politicians are grandstanding poltroons, and all bachelors are unmarried men. So what? Do we want someone with teeth to continue looking into this, or not? We can’t both rag on the politicians for taking up the cause and the teams for saying, “Let’s move on.” Assume everyone, from Fehr to Selig to John McCain, is a self-serving dickhead. Is there anything we want to know that we don’t? Are we willing to go back through the same old mud to get it? How do we want the testing policy to be revised? The voice of an old fogey, but a sport in which Bret Boone hits one-handed home runs is almost totally uninteresting to me.

Levin: Well, if you don’t like to watch guys like Bret Boone hit one-handed home runs, you’re in luck. The MLB home-run rate was way, way down this year. I’m not dumb enough to believe that MLB’s current testing program has eradicated drug use in baseball, but the Mitchell report is a historical document. It mostly lists guys who took steroids between two and nine years ago. That’s why I think the Mitchell report is almost useless as a referendum on baseball’s standard operating procedure vis-à-vis drug use. It is, though, a wonderful piece of literature and invaluable as an oral history of the game’s drug age. (The Glory of Their Vials, anyone?) Never has there been a better depiction of how the modern clubhouse operates, with the intimate relationships between players, trainers, and the occasional batboy from the wrong side of the tracks. And one thing we haven’t talked about is the complicity of MLB front offices. This note of “an internal among Los Angeles Dodgers officials” in the section on Paul Lo Duca is fascinating: “Steroids aren’t being used anymore on him. Big part of this. Might have some value to trade. … Florida might have interest. … Got off the steroids. … Took away a lot of hard line drives.”

Metcalf: Maybe this fine piece of literature will motivate someone to make the testing regime meaningful.

Wilson: Here’s my count of teams mentioned in the section about Radomski. Disclaimer: Some guys played for six teams, but we can’t assume they took steroids while playing for each team. Still interesting, though.

American League

East: New York 14, Toronto 5, Boston 9, Baltimore 13, Tampa Bay 3

Central: Minnesota 4, Detroit 6, Chicago 1, Cleveland 9, Kansas City 7

West: Oakland 6, Los Angeles 8, Texas 7, Seattle 7

National League      

East: New York 13, Philadelphia 5, Atlanta 5, Florida 6, Montreal/Washington 9

Central: St. Louis 8, Houston 6, Cincinnati 8, Milwaukee 4, Pittsburgh 6, Chicago 7

West: Los Angeles 11, San Diego 7, San Francisco 6, Arizona 5, Colorado 9

Levin: If I’m a Chicago White Sox fan, I’m asking why our guys aren’t willing to compete with the rest of the league.