For Whom the Bell Tolls

On March 30, 2006 Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig authorized an investigation into the alleged usage of steroids by major league players. The investigation was led by former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. In 2006 baseball was reeling from the allegations that steroids and other performance enhancing drugs were tainting the game and ruining its integrity. These charges came to the forefront of society after two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper penned the book Game of Shadows that described the ever expanding use of performance enhancing drugs and focused especially on Barry Bonds who was at the time chasing Hank Aaron’s home run record. George Mitchell’s investigation would last 21 months and include requests by the Mitchell commission to interview owners, players, coaches, and other baseball personnel. Throughout the investigation the committee met with stonewalling tactics by many parties with the majority of players declining to cooperate. Finally after a long and drawn out process of gathering information Mitchell was to make his findings public.

The Mitchell Report as it has become known can be seen in its entirety here has made for some interesting reading and more than its share of publicity. The report begins by describing the health risks associated with the usage of steroids and other performance enhancing substances and goes on to explain the effects these drugs may have on young athletes. It also provides information on the legal landscape of drug use in organized baseball that led up to the current day. If the report contained nothing more than this it would be an eye-opening piece of literature for most baseball fans. The report paints a picture of rampant drug use and describes instances that include each of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises. There is no team that was immune from this epidemic as players and teams looked for a competitive edge over their opponent. Team personnel and training staffs turned a blind eye on the practice of using performance enhancing drugs. The Mitchell report then moves into more of an investigative role as it begins to describe one network of individuals who used these substances. It introduces the reader to the unflattering characters within baseball who assisted players in obtaining steroids and other drugs and how these substances were used. A trail of money and contacts were uncovered and documented naming specific players, coaches, and team employees associated with this particular drug network. In all 89 names were identified from just this single source and the names read like a who’s who of current and former players. Some of these players had bit parts in the game and toiled most of their careers in the minor leagues while others are some of the game’s great players that have represented baseball in the All-Star game or named as Most Valuable Player or appeared in the World Series. With each new name the story became bigger and the fan is left wondering if there are any players who were not supplementing their performance with some substance. If one supplier could name 89 players you’re left to wonder how many suppliers there actually are and where the trail of implications will end.

One of the larger names to be bantered about is Roger Clemens who until today was thought to be a sure fire first ballot hall of fame candidate. The report described the regimen of supplements that Clemens used dating back to his days in Toronto in 1998. His dominance in the game has been chronicled in multiple sources and he is currently second on the all-time strike-out list behind Nolan Ryan. As you read the report you begin to wonder how many of those strike-outs were a result of Clemens natural ability and how many of them were through the assistance of chemistry introduced into his blood stream. Is the longevity of his career a result of the well-documented stringent workouts he does to prepare for each season or has he played this long because of the injections he used? How many of his 354 wins did he earn on his own merit and how many were synthetically manufactured? Clemens of course is just one of the stories within the report.

Like everyone else, I expected that the Mitchell report would serve as hard evidence that Barry Bonds was indeed a steroid user and had somehow cheated the game of baseball. But after reading through the report I am left wondering whether there is an honest player anywhere in the game. The amount of performance enhancing substance use is so large that you begin to lose faith that it could be restored. But given the sport’s new found popularity you are left to wonder whether it even matters. After the 1994 strike baseball struggled to re-establish itself with the fans. Attendance was down and baseball looked as though it was becoming a fringe sport. Some wondered aloud if baseball would end up being compared to hockey from a popularity perspective. Shortly thereafter players began to seem larger than life and performances were being turned in that had never been seen in the history of the game. This fascination with seeing something that was perhaps historical brought the fans back to the ballpark and the excitement began to build. It reached its crescendo in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ single season home run record. That was a turning point from which baseball has not looked back. In subsequent years baseball has seen attendance and revenues substantially grow leading commissioner Selig to express that the game was enjoying a new renaissance. Much of this can be attributed to the introduction of smaller ballparks and bigger players which is what the American public craved. It was pretty obvious to anyone who followed baseball with any sort of regularity that something was amiss. No one regardless of how much time they spent in the gym developed muscles that large that quickly through hard work alone. But still, did it really matter if we were being entertained and our team was winning?

We are in full support of Senator Mitchell’s findings and of the Commissioner’s recommendations. We look forward to the industry putting this chapter behind us, as we turn the page towards a bright future. We are pleased to learn that our testing measures have been effective, and are hopeful that this will allow us to continue the education and prevention process that is so important for all sports and all youth.

Ken Kendrick

Arizona Diamondbacks Managing Partner

Somewhere in the midst of all this the fans lost sight of whether what we were seeing was right or wrong. Some of that may have been the result of us losing touch with the average baseball player. They were no longer looked upon as an average guy who just happens to play professional baseball. Now they were well cared for millionaires who were pampered and cared for like a prized animal at the state fair. When we were kids baseball players seemed larger than life because they were doing something on the field that we all wished we could do. Now though they were larger than life as a result of what they were doing off the field; injecting themselves with steroids and growth hormones to enhance their natural abilities and gain an edge. Baseball is a funny game. Between the foul lines it is the game we all played as children. It is something we can relate to as many of us have played at least at some level. But as it became a business and the stakes became higher it changed. It has caused grown men to make ethical decisions that many of us cannot understand. For the majority of fans it is inconceivable that players would cheat the game just to make a buck or win a game. The playing field suddenly became very unbalanced. No longer was it a matter of playing your best, it became a science experiment to see who could cheat the game without being caught. With today’s introduction of the Mitchell report it is causing people to stop and assess what has occurred and what is still occurring. We would all be fairly naïve if we thought that steroids and performance enhancing substances no longer exist in baseball. Players have gotten more sophisticated in how they administer these and how they can go undetected. Teams are in a peculiar situation. If they closely monitor their players and notify authorities of suspected wrong doing they will hurt the team’s chances of winning and ultimately hurt their revenues. It therefore behooves them to turn the other way meaning that there really is no one within baseball who could be trusted to govern whether players and teams are playing by the rules. The Mitchell report makes several recommendations and at first glance you would tend to agree with its suggestions but compliance and governance mechanisms don’t exist within baseball and neither the owners nor the players seem willing to accept an outside party who has authority to punish offenders. So after 21 months of waiting what we have is a document that describes the tip of an iceberg that no one wants to recognize exists.

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