Mitchell’s Filibuster

I will never forget where I was when the Mitchell Report was released. I was sitting in a chair, staring into bright lights and a camera with a 20-year-old picture of the Atlanta skyline behind me. My laptop was stowed conveniently just off to the side for discrete access, and I was reviewing my talking points. I had been asked to comment on the economic implications of the investigation by CNBC earlier in the day, and I had barely scrambled together a collection of my nice clothes and navigate Atlanta traffic to make it to the studio on time.

I listened to Senator Mitchell’s speech intently through an ear-piece. This wasn’t going to be your standard back-and-forth on a pre-arranged topic, so I was a little nervous. Because I might have to comment on new information, I began to take notes. And then it began to hit me. I was getting hot, and my butt was starting to hurt. “How long have I been sitting here?” I thought. The producer popped on my ear-piece, “You still there J.C.? We’ll go to you first thing after he finishes.” But he just wouldn’t stop talking, and I knew what was about to happen. “J.C., I’m sorry but he’s gone to long and we don’t have time for your segment.” Filibuster. I probably wasn’t the only talking head who pulled off an ear-piece and walked out without saying a word. Deep down, I suspected that the uncertainty inherent in live news made it very likely that I would get bumped, so I just laughed.

Anyway, at least I got some good notes. I thought Mitchell did a nice job of summarizing the report. I’m still not through every word, but his summary made it easier for me to skip around the document. I was also impressed that he requested amnesty for past deeds, even though I am not sure how many reported actions would result in a punishment. I was not expecting this, and I think it is a good move.

One thing I was disappointed with in the press conference was his emphasis on players switching to human growth hormone from steroids. I kind of have a thing about this. But, when I got home and read the report, I was surprised to find the document stated the following.

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. The author of one book targeted at steroid abusers observed that “[t]he most curious aspect of the whole situation is that I’ve never encountered any athlete using HGH to benefit from it, and all the athletes who admit to having used it will usually agree: it didn’t/doesn’t work for them.”

Can we get plaques that say this and hang them all clubhouses and press boxes?

I’m not sure that Mitchell’s plan makes any structural changes that will meaningfully alter performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. His independent Department of Investigations doesn’t look all that independent to me. I think as a politician, he considers it his duty to propose a new committee or department as part of a solution to any problem.

I am sure I will have more comments as a read, but I wanted to go ahead and post my initial thoughts…and tell my silly story.

7 Responses “Mitchell’s Filibuster”

  1. Brian Mills says:

    I’m in the process of reading the report as well, JC. One of the things I was impressed with was Mitchell explicitly stating his intentions not as a dig into the past but as a suggestive report for the future. However, I’m not sure what more can be done with the testing. If HGH doesn’t help, then who really cares. So there seems to be no reason to use money to develop a test and implement it when it can be used for other things.

    All in all, I still question the intentions of Bud Selig. He seems to have a hold on what he feels is traditional baseball and is using this as a way to debunk the past 20 years of the sport and everything great that has come from it. I agree that the report may serve as an interesting historical record in the future, and that the player names were used to emphasize the problem. However, the report seems to be a little late, as significant changes have already been implemented. I feel that the use of player names in the PUBLIC release of the report was unnecessary and obviously very damaging to a number of players.

    I’m curious to see what ESPN does with Fernando Vina. I assume he will have trouble as a public figure on such a huge sports network and Baseball Tonight. I personally enjoy his analysis. Assuming he did take steroids, it really doesn’t have anything to do with his knowledge of the game; however, I get the feeling he may not be around on Baseball Tonight next season. It’s a real shame and given the questionable evidence, he may have a case of slander against them. Especially if it costs him his job.

    Finally, a direct quote from the Mitchell report (Page SR-19):

    “I did not include in this report the names of three players to whom Radomski said he sold performance enhancing substances: two of them because the players had retired from Major League Baseball by the time of the alleged sales…”

    I commend Mitchell’s restraint on this subject. However, this really makes me wonder about the credibility of Radomski (as if he needed more reason to be questioned). If he claims to have sold steroids to players and does not know the years that they were playing the game, what else is he lying about. OF COURSE, I may be misreading this statement (as it is simply in the summary of the report and have not gotten to this point in the main body of it). Possibly these players purchased the steroids after their retirement from baseball. There doesn’t seem to be much of a competitive reason to do so here, which is why I wish there was more clarification on this subject. Maybe I will find it later. I guess that the use of steroids can become addictive and these players ‘needed’ them even after retirement. However, I would assume they would attempt to get them from the source that they had previosly purchased them from, rather than Radomski. This would lead you to believe they didn’t take any performance enhancing drugs during their careers. If they hadn’t taken steroids during their careers, then why after?

    On another note…Kudos to Alex Rodriguez and being the richest(er) man in baseball. Despite what people have to say about him, he deserves it. His performance over his career WITHOUT steroids should show that the increased HR totals over the past 15 years arent specifically due to steroid use.

    Hopefully this whole deal doesn’t lead to more asterisk brands on historical memoribilia. Mitchell presented his case well, but it doesn’t stop from discussion of Hall of Fame implications, records, etc. Everything should be left alone.

    I believe steroids should be banned. However, I really don’t feel that using steroids in the past 20 years is a hit to anyone’s integrity and character. Many of these players are upstanding people, contributing citizens, etc. I have a problem with much of the media sitting on a high horse and accusing these players of having ‘flawed character and low integrity’ and not voting for them for awards/Hall of Fame induction. Guys like Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa hit home runs against pitchers all roided up. Doesn’t this mean he was even better than their ‘respectable’ players from the past?

    FINAL NOTE: As a fan of Chuck Knoblauch, I wondered if he thought taking steroids would increase his ability to throw the ball from second base to first without bouncing it. We may be able to agree that steroids don’t help this skill too much.

  2. Andrew says:

    JC, I think there are two different problems at hand here in regards to HGH. First, there is the legitimate confusion that HGH is a performance-enhancing drug. However, obtaining HGH is illegal under most circumstances. I feel that athletes breaking the law is an important aspect that should not go unnoticed just because they are dumb enough to use an illegal product that doesn’t work.

  3. JC says:

    Andrew,

    I think that using HGH while it is a banned substance in baseball should be punished because it is a violation of the rules. My beef with HGH is that there is no use devoting resources to stopping its use. Mitchell is right that education may be important here. If most members of the media think HGH works, how are the players supposed to know?

    As for MLB imposing penalties for players breaking federal and state laws, I disagree. MLB doesn’t normally punish players for illegal actions off of the field. And if all that matters is that these substances are illegal, then there is no need for baseball to prohibit them.

  4. Marc Schneider says:

    I care about steoid use for one reason only and that’s the effect on players’ health long-term and the possibility that steroid use could lead to violence toward others, ie, “roid range.” More specifically, while I may not care what an individual player does with his body, I do care if this causes younger, aspiring athletes to feel as if he has to use steroids (or HGH regardless of effectiveness)to be competitive. For that reason, baseball and all sports need to try to eliminate steroid use as much as is reasonably possible. I couldn’t care less about the effect that steroids might have on baseball records which, IMO, are highly contextual anyway. As long as steroids don’t distort the competitive aspects of baseball, ie, improving the performance of a particular group vis a vis the overall MLB (unless it was helping the Braves, of course, :)), I will still watch. And it’s not as if baseball is the only segment of American life where people bend or break rules (and laws)in order to succeed or make more money.

  5. John says:

    I would also like to point out that we’re not saying they shouldn’t be punished for using HGH – just that there is already a more appropriate place to punish them – namely, a court of law.

    Plenty of players are wife-beaters or drunken drivers (I would imagine in the same proportion as the rest of the world) – yet I’ve noticed that no one seems to be in a big hurry to get MLB to regulate that.

  6. Willy says:

    From what the report says about how these guys used HGH, it sounds a lot like how they use Cortisone shots. Now a cortisone shot is completely legal in baseball, and appears to actually have performance-enhancing results. While HGH apparently does not? So why aren’t cortisone shots banned as well?

  7. Anthony says:

    Best defense of steroid use:

    August 30, 1998
    Home Run Chase Needs No Asterisk

    To the Editor:

    Re ”Mark McGwire’s Pep Pills” (editorial, Aug. 27): As a homeopathic doctor I know that androstenedione, like all adrenal precursors and hormones, is dependent on the 80 essential minerals needed in our diet, and can be poisoned by chemicals in the environment.

    When Babe Ruth set his home run records, for example, vegetables had a far greater mineral content than they do now. Moreover, air pollution was much less of a problem during Ruth’s time than it is now.

    The reason that people like Mark McGwire take dietary supplements like androstenedione is that they need to compensate for the detriments brought on by an unhealthy environment.

    BRUCE H. SHELTON, M.D.
    Phoenix, Aug. 27, 1998