Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Updated: November 26, 11:22 AM ET
Year later, Mitchell wouldn't change report, thinks drug use down in MLB
NEW YORK -- Nearly one year later, George Mitchell wouldn't change a word of his report.
His investigation of drugs in baseball tarnished the reputation of Roger Clemens and dozens of other players, led to a toughened drug agreement and created an impression that clubhouses were teeming with performance-enhancers.
"The impression I get is that it's had a significant impact of reducing usage, although that still remains very difficult to measure with any complete precision," the former Senate Majority Leader said Tuesday during a half-hour interview in his midtown Manhattan office.
Mitchell's 409-page report implicated seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars -- one for every position. It identified 85 players to differing degrees, a list of baseball's famous that included Clemens, Eric Gagne, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Troy Glaus.
"Obviously as a human being, I regret and don't take pleasure in someone else's misfortune, whether I have any relationship to it or not," Mitchell said. "What we did was to try to meet the obligation which we'd undertaken, and we did so. Each player involved made his decision on how to respond."
Still, Mitchell doesn't think baseball's drug problem has been totally solved.
"I would be very doubtful that it is completely clean in the sense nobody is using," he said. "You don't know whether this is a temporary response because of the attention it's gotten and whether over time it will begin to resume an increase. I think that's unlikely given the aggressive nature of the response, but it's something you have to be continuously concerned about."
Mitchell's new evidence was based primarily on interviews with Kirk Radomski, the former New York Mets clubhouse attendant who pleaded guilty to illegally distributing steroids, and Brian McNamee, Clemens' former personal trainer. It also recited the government's case against Barry Bonds and collected various media reports.
Some players implicated bounced back with relatively little stigma, a group that included Rick Ankiel, Glaus and Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte. Some disappeared from the majors, such as Jay Gibbons, released by Baltimore during spring training.
Clemens was the report's biggest loser.
Headed to the Hall of Fame with 354 wins before the Mitchell report, his Cooperstown chances deteriorated when Mitchell made public McNamee's allegations that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner had used steroids and human growth hormone before they were banned. It led to a high-profile congressional hearing in February in which McNamee accused Clemens' wife, Debbie, of using HGH, and the Department of Justice was asked to investigate whether the pitcher lied when he denied McNamee's account.
In addition, Clemens sued McNamee for defamation, a case still in its early stages. In the fallout from the suit, the New York Daily News reported Clemens had a decade-long relationship with country star Mindy McCready that began when she was 15. Clemens denied having an affair with a 15-year-old but didn't specifically address whether he had a romance with McCready.
"Because the matter is the subject of both a civil lawsuit and a criminal investigation, I believe it's appropriate for me to not make any comment," said Mitchell, who wouldn't say whether he had spoken with federal investigators probing Clemens.
When he released the report Dec. 13, Mitchell recommended commissioner Bud Selig not discipline players and Selig gave amnesty to all players on April 11 in an agreement with the players' association to toughen drug rules for the third time since 2002. As part of the deal, 15-day suspensions assessed against Jose Guillen and Gibbons were eliminated.
"I think it's gone a long way toward turning the page on this issue and permitting baseball to move forward," Mitchell said.
All 20 of Mitchell's recommendations were adopted, including creating a department of investigations, which has a $2 million budget for next year, Mitchell said. The new unit, headed by Dan Mullin and George Hanna, launched probes relating to skimming of contract bonuses and gambling in addition to its drug responsibilities.
The sport's drug-testing program, which is separate, was budgeted for $4.7 million this year, MLB spokesman Rich Levin said.
Just three players were suspended this year under the major league program, all for 50 games: San Francisco catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, Colorado catcher Humberto Cota and Florida pitcher Henry Owens. Suspensions were far more prevalent under the minor league program, with 66 penalties, including 40 from the Dominican Summer League and 10 from the Venezuelan Summer League.
"My view on the numbers is really simple: We run the very best program we can possibly run, and the numbers turn out how the numbers turn out. I can't control the numbers," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations. "I think the move to the independent program administrator with the authority that was invested in him was a huge improvement. That in my view was the biggest single change."
The administrator was to have released the first of his annual reports on the drug program by next Monday, but it likely won't be issued until January.
Mitchell said the timing of the review wasn't important, only that it's done annually.
"The most important thing is to create an attitude which reflects the awareness that this is a dynamic ongoing program," he said. "You can never reach the stage where you can say, we solved it, that's it. You may have solved this drug, but there's a lot of money involved and there are a lot of people who are seeking to make some of that money by creating new illegal drugs. And so you have to have a constant attention, constant focus, constant effort."
The players' association, which resisted Mitchell's probe, agrees with that analysis and agreed in April to accept his recommendations.
"Fundamentally, we thought we had a good program. All the evidence we had was that it was working extremely well for some substantial period of time before the Mitchell report came out," union head Donald Fehr said.
Now, Mitchell is waiting to see if more names will be implicated in the case of Dr. Ramon Scruggs and two alleged associates at the New Hope Health Center in Costa Mesa, Calif. A federal indictment unsealed in April charged that unidentified agents for baseball players steered clients to him.
"That's a dimension that did not arise during our investigation," Mitchell said. "It validates what I said. We didn't find out everything."