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Mitchell: Many to Blame for Baseball's 'Steroids Era'

Former Sen. George Mitchell announces results of his 20-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in baseball Thursday at a press conference in New York.
Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Former Sen. George Mitchell announces results of his 20-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in baseball Thursday at a press conference in New York.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell released his long-awaited report on steroid use in Major League Baseball on Thursday, blaming the "steroids era" on "everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades: commissioners, club officials, the players' association and players."

"Of course, the players who used, obviously, bear responsibility for their actions. But they did not act in a vacuum," Mitchell told Robert Siegel in an interview.

You actually credit the players union position as having some truth that baseball owners, I believe you said, feared the economic consequences of a tough policy on doping. Is that correct?

No, that's not exactly the way I stated it. That's not correct. The way it occurred and the way I stated it is that the owners made proposals to deal with the problem through drug testing. The players association did not agree. The owners did not press hard on the issue because they had other economic concerns. The economic concerns were not related to the implications of dealing with drug testing.

But when your report relates, for example, Roger Clemens being acquired from Toronto by the New York Yankees, and the assistant weight-training coach who says now that he had been supplying steroids to Clemens coming with him to New York, is it fair to assume that up and down the chain people in management understood that's what Clemens' problem was, that that's what his relationship with this man was?

No, I don't believe that's a fair conclusion. I don't know who knew when. It's possible that no one did, because these events did not occur in public. In fact, if you read the report, all of those events occurred in private, in the privacy of a hotel room or a private apartment. So the extent to which others knew is something of which I don't have knowledge, and I don't think can fully be inferred from the report.

On the other hand, in the cases regarding Eric Gagne, the relief pitcher, and Paul Lo Duca, the catcher, your report includes notes of remarks made by baseball executives, which indicate that people were familiar as they thought about trading for or trading these players, they were familiar with stories of their using steroids. True?

That is true. I said in the first paragraph of my report that club officials routinely discussed the issue of steroid use in evaluating players. That's documented in the report. It was and has been recently widespread in baseball. And so, it suggests that there was in fact a knowledge of what was occurring.

You suggested Major League Baseball take a very forward-looking approach to this problem. Why? Why shouldn't it clean house? Why shouldn't it go back to what happened in all those years when it didn't have an adequate policy for dealing with steroid abuse?

Well, first, of course, most of the events described in my report are old, from two to nine years old. At the time they occurred, there was not a penalty for a first violation of the program. Under the law, you have to apply the penalty provisions in effect at the time of the conduct, so for many of them, there isn't any penalty.

Secondly, more than half the players have already left the game. They are beyond the jurisdiction of the commissioner. He doesn't have any authority to discipline them even if he wanted to.

Third, and perhaps more important, everybody has to work together and look forward. To be mired in contentious disciplinary proceedings for months and years will keep everyone focused on the past precisely at the time that they ought to be focused on the future.

Although, while they may not have been violating Major League Baseball rules – they may have been lacking rules – you say this was illegal use of drugs.

It was. But let me tell you that in the last several years, more than 250 professional baseball players have been suspended publicly because they tested positive in a drug test – most of them in the minor leagues, but many of them in the major leagues. Not one has been prosecuted, even though their names are in the papers as having violated the law.

That's because prosecuting authorities in this country – and I was one of them as a U.S. attorney years ago – focus their prosecutorial resources not on the individual end-user, but on the manufacturers and the distributors of drugs. That's been a public policy in place in this country for many years. And it's a sensible policy. Why should we say that with respect to baseball players, the law should apply differently than it does to everybody else in the country?

Do you think that roster of names, by the way, that's been made public – do you think that represents the majority of professional baseball – Major League Baseball players at least – who were using drugs, the half that weren't wise enough to avoid getting caught? What's your sense?

It's impossible to verify all of the estimates that have been made. I do believe that it's a minority of players who used these substances, but I also said, and even emphasized, that it's clear that I didn't learn everything. I don't know every name of every supplier; I don't know the name of every user. What I did learn was enough to accurately describe the era and to lay the basis for recommendations to deal with the problem in the future. I think that's what's important.

You raised Northern Ireland.


You invoked your experience as a Northern Ireland mediator. What did you learn in Northern Ireland that is germane to steroid abuse in Major League Baseball?

That letting go of the past and looking to the future is a very hard thing to do. But it's necessary to deal with an ongoing problem.

Are you struck by any irony here that the Ulster men and Provos in Northern Ireland may have been more forthcoming to your mission than the baseball players union was in this case?

(Laughter.) Well, I thought about that from time to time.

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