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The Best Interests of the Game?

It’s official: With yesterday’s steroid report making front page news, George Mitchell has become a brand name, the investigatory equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal. A story in today’s New York Times encapsulates the credulous, even ceremonial treatment the press has, for the most part, afforded Mitchell’s findings. Which would be fine, if only Mitchell wasn’t up to his ears in conflicts of interest, and hadn’t produced a document that reported almost nothing new, save for empty rhetoric (“hundreds of thousands of our children are using [steroids]”) and the often uncorroborated claims of two sources ensnared in the legal system and looking to cut a deal, spiced up with a good dose of hearsay.

Conducting some 700 interviews and going over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Mitchell turns up considerably less than can be found in the book that exposes Barry Bonds’s steroid use, Game of Shadows, or in Howard Bryant’s excellent Juicing The Game. We could have found out more, and at least as credibly, simply by compiling a list of the players whose statistics improved by an order of magnitude after the age of 32, something nearly unheard of prior to the steroid era.

Clearly aware of how little he’d turned up, Mitchell released his 409-page document just an hour before holding a press conference, ensuring that reporters had no time to read, let alone absorb, the document before asking him questions. When tough questions did come up, he stonewalled with endless variations of “it’s in the report.” It was a smart way to control the story, given that few new names were unearthed—much of the report reads like a detailed summary of the better news reporting of the last decade—and the big ones that were, most notably Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada, were, to anyone who’d been paying attention, among the most obvious abusers.

In place of significant new revelations, Mitchell continuously blamed the players for their lack of cooperation with his investigation. Why the players should have cooperated with what was effectively an attack on labor by management remains unclear. After all, it was no secret on whose behalf Mitchell was working.

New York writers have concentrated on Mitchell’s ties to the Red Sox. Conspiracy theories about this focus on the New York-centric quality of the report; the outing of Indians pitcher Paul Byrd, in the middle of a postseason series between the Sox and the Indians, as a human growth hormone user; and the decision not to tender a contract to reliever Brendan Donnelly, just a few hours before the report, with Donnelly’s name in it, was released. However, the bigger, more open, conspiracy is that of the former Senator’s relationship to management.

Tim Marchman of the New York Sun, evidently one of the few writers who bothered to read the report before reporting on it, lists these conflicts in what should be considered the definitive dispatch thus far on the report. Suffice it to say that Mitchell, who presently serves as a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, is, in Marchman’s words, “a member of baseball management as surely as anyone now living.”

This is the only light in which to understand a report that breaks just enough ground to fool lazy reporters, while allowing Commissioner Bud Selig to declare an end to the steroid era, by pushing through the new rules and regulations Mitchell proposes, and using these changes to keep Congress at bay. As Marchman puts it, Selig’s appointing Mitchell is akin to “President Bush’s charging Karl Rove with a blue ribbon inquiry into the war in Iraq, and Rove’s brushing away the appearance of impropriety by assuring the world that the White House political operation would get no special favor.”

All of this befits a league that expects us to believe that a commissioner who’s a former owner, and who serves at the mercy of ownership, is acting “in the best interests of the game.”


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