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Thursday, December 13, 2007
Questions the Mitchell report should answer

By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine

Here are key questions to be answered by the Mitchell report, as it is released Thursday (and some of the questions are rather self-explanatory):

Will it include the names of superstar players who have not yet been named in connection with steroids?
Some folks on the union side have been hinting that the Mitchell investigators requested the company of big-time stars as they looked into allegations of performance-enhancing drugs. "Landscape-changing names," said one agent. "Names that will change the way we look at the sport."

It is unclear whether these players were merely asked as a formality or if, in fact, the investigators had some evidence that they wanted to present to the players for a response. The reason for the intrigue is not just to satisfy our gossipy curiosity: As we have seen with Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, legacies -- and Hall of Fame candidacies -- can be devastated when a player is tied to the steroids mess. Based on early reports by ESPN, at least Roger Clemens' name will appear in the report.

Who will George Mitchell blame?
It's almost a given, within baseball circles, that within the pages of the report, Mitchell will generally hammer the players who took steroids and the union leadership. What executives and medical personnel and folks on the union side are wondering is: Who else will get knocked around by the words in the report?

Will Mitchell criticize the general managers? The managers? Coaches? The doctors? The team trainers?
If he does, it is all but guaranteed that many will respond anonymously in media reports -- though some may be moved to reply on the record. There is great fear and anger among these folks about what will be in the report, because many felt they were asked to speculate in their interviews with investigators rather than provide hard information.

And will Mitchell criticize the owners and commissioner Bud Selig?
If not, this will lead to much criticism from columnists and TV/radio types, because of the apparent conflict of interest of having someone within baseball -- Mitchell is on the board of directors of the Red Sox -- who is being paid a lot of money render the decision on whether Selig made mistakes.

If Mitchell does blame the commissioner and criticize him directly for action that he didn't take through the '90s, he will effectively lay an ugly and large chunk of blame for the steroids era across the mantle of Selig's legacy. In doing so, Mitchell would be echoing what many inside and outside the game have been saying. Selig has dismissed those critics as "revisionists." Will Selig deem Mitchell a revisionist, too? We shall see.

How many names will be included?
Various news reports have pegged the number at somewhere in the range of 50 to 80 names. To put that in context, there already have been 64 names implicated in the steroid scandal, according to the Web site baseballssteroidera.com. And in the league's 2003 survey testing, a little more than 100 players tested positive. So the generation of 50 to 80 names, after 20 months and tens of millions of dollars spent on the investigation, would be the tip of the iceberg. (And in fairness to the investigators, theirs has been a nearly impossible assignment from the beginning, without subpoena power. But we all knew that in March of 2006.)

What is going to be the standard of fairness applied in deciding to publish -- or not publish -- names within the report?
An agent tells this story: One of his clients was asked by the Mitchell investigators to address a question of steroid impropriety that came out of the information from former Mets bat boy Kirk Radomski. The player was shown a canceled check in his name, written to Radomski, and asked to explain what it was for. The player responded: He didn't know. Because it could've been for anything from a McDonald's run for a group of players to clubhouse dues or something else. But the player said he knew this: It wasn't for performance-enhancing drugs. And, in the end, the Mitchell investigators backed off.

Is a benign canceled check combined with the word of a former Mets bat boy enough to include a player in the report? And no matter what the intention of the Mitchell investigators is, the reality is that if a player's name is in this report in relation to steroids, he will be effectively convicted in the court of public opinion.

And you can bet that if there is even one name that we haven't heard before, the union is going to have a lot to say, in its own news conference, about how the report was generated.

Will there be an attempt to generally estimate what percentage of players used steroids during this period, in lieu of hard evidence?

Will there be a Red Sox player named in the report?
Because of Mitchell's affiliation with the team, that is a question being asked by more than a handful of executives around the game.

Will the report identify weaknesses and recommend changes in the league's current testing program?
Based on an ESPN.com story from T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the report will call out baseball for not acting earlier, and will recommend year-round testing, greater transparency in the program, and outsourcing the drug testing program to an independent agency.

Will the report go so far as to recommend some way that the commissioner might handle the statistical accomplishments of players connected with steroids?

Will the report cite what investigators consider to be the failures of the media that covered the sport?

Was the idea of a Mitchell investigation a good idea?
Would it have been better for the commissioner to simply stand up, in March of 2006, and acknowledge mistakes and move on, rather than paying tens of millions of dollars to air a small portion of the sport's dirty laundry?

Stay tuned for the answers to these important questions and much more.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.