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Mitchell Blames Players, Management in Baseball Steroid Investigation

December 13, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT
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A report released Thursday by former Sen. George Mitchell on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in pro baseball named many of the game's top athletes and cited both players and management for allowing the abuse. Sen. Mitchell discusses the 20-month investigation.

JIM LEHRER: Now, George Mitchell and baseball’s steroids scandal. Jeffrey Brown begins with some background on today’s official report.

JEFFREY BROWN: In a strongly worded, 400-plus page report, former Senator George Mitchell laid out a decade-long pattern of use of performance-enhancing drugs by Major League Baseball players and a failure to respond by owners and officials.

FMR. SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL (D), Maine: The evidence we uncovered indicates that this has not been an isolated problem involving just a few players or a few clubs. Many players were involved. Each of the 30 clubs has had players who have been involved with such substances at some time in their careers.

JEFFREY BROWN: Among the 80-plus players named are some stars of the game, including Yankees pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte; the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player, shortstop Miguel Tejada, recently traded from Baltimore to Houston; Detroit Tigers and former New York Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield; and Barry Bonds, the seven-time National League MVP and holder of the career homerun record, which he broke four months ago.

BARRY BONDS, Major League Baseball Player: This record is not tainted at all.

JEFFREY BROWN: Bonds’ name has become synonymous with the issue. He is currently under federal indictment for lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs before a grand jury.

Mitchell also said there was widespread use of human growth hormone, which cannot be tested for presently.

The report relied heavily on several sources of information, including Kirk Radomski, a former clubhouse assistant and batboy for the New York Mets. Radomski cooperated with the probe after pleading guilty to federal charges of distributing illegal steroids.

Mitchell made a series of recommendations, including having the drug-testing regimen strengthened, making it a year-round and random program, and having it conducted by a truly independent agent.

Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said late today that the report was fair, if painful.

BUD SELIG, Commissioner, Major League Baseball: His report is a call to action, and I will act. I will continue to deal with the issue of performance-enhancing substance abuse.

JEFFREY BROWN: Selig has come under fire for lack of action throughout what became known as the steroids era in baseball, the record-shattering 1990s and early 2000s, the era of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s homerun derbies, and the juiced baseball.

BUD SELIG: Baseball is America’s pastime because of the trust placed in this sport by its fans. I’m proud to say baseball has never been more popular. I’m proud to say that our attendance continues to break records year after year, and our fans continue to love the game.

But our fans deserve a game that is played on a level playing field, where all who compete do so fairly. So long as there may be potential cheaters, we will always have to monitor our programs and constantly update them to catch those who think they can get away with breaking baseball’s rules.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Major League Baseball players union was also harshly criticized in today’s report. The group’s executive director, Donald Fehr, spoke late today at a separate news conference.

DONALD FEHR, Executive Director, Major League Baseball Players Association: We haven’t had an opportunity to review and study the report in any detail whatsoever, so for now we can only say the following: Many players are named. Their reputations have been adversely affected, probably forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been.

JEFFREY BROWN: The report advises against disciplining active players for past use of performance-enhancers unless otherwise deemed necessary by the commissioner to, quote, “maintain the integrity of the game.”

Naming top players

George Mitchell
Former Senator
So we did everything we could to determine what the truth is. And we made every effort to give the players an opportunity to review the evidence and to respond to it.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we're joined now from New York by the report's author, George Mitchell. He launched this probe at the request of Commissioner Selig in 2006. He serves as a director of the Boston Red Sox, but has been on a leave of absence from the team and its payroll since taking this on.

Senator Mitchell, you write of a decade of, quote, "widespread illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs." How widespread is this?

GEORGE MITCHELL: There have been many estimates. They're impossible to verify. We know, of course, that the minimum is 5 percent to 7 percent of players, because that number tested positive in the survey testing in 2003. That probably understates the case. I think it's a minority, but it's a substantial minority.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in the report, you do name names. I want to bring up one, Roger Clemens. I had a chance to read that section carefully, and you have sections on individual players.

In the Clemens case, much of it relies on the testimony of one person, a trainer named Brian McNamee. Clemens today, you may know, has through his lawyer denied the allegations. You have a lot of experience as a judge, as a prosecutor. Are you saying in this report definitively that Roger Clemens in this case used steroids?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I invited Clemens through his attorney to meet with me before I published the report, as I did with every player about whom allegations were received. And I said that I would show them the information that we had, tell them what the allegations were, and give them an opportunity to respond.

Almost without exception, the current players declined to meet with me. Several of the former players did meet with me.

Now, in the case of Brian McNamee, he was interviewed in the presence of federal law enforcement officials. I asked him, as I asked all witnesses, simply to tell me the truth, nothing more, nothing less. And he was informed, through his lawyer, who was also present -- he had his personal lawyer present at all of the interviews -- that if he did not tell the truth, he would be subject to prosecution criminally for making false statements to federal officials.

So we did everything we could to determine what the truth is. And we made every effort to give the players an opportunity to review the evidence and to respond to it.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you heard what Donald Fehr just said in our little set-up. You had to make decisions to put out names. Now, you put out a name with an accusation by this McNamee, the trainer. Why decide to do that, if it's still based on his and Clemens says that it didn't happen?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, of course, Clemens did not tell me that it didn't happen. That's the point. I asked him to do so, as I did all of the other players.

You see, the position that Mr. Fehr has taken and that you have just now echoed is that a player who used performance-enhancing substances could keep his name out of the report by simply refusing to talk to me. And since everybody refused to talk to me, there, of course, would be no names in the report and there would be no report.

So I ask you whether you think it's fair or your listeners that players who did, in fact, use such substances could be protected by the mere device of refusing to discuss the issue.

"Collective failure"

George Mitchell
Former Senator
But I pointed out that there were numerous public indications, newspaper articles, as I've said, and a variety of others, and yet no action was taken.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you refer to this as a "collective failure." Are you saying that everyone knew what was going on?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, obviously, not everyone, and I don't say that. What I said was -- and you have to read the report to get the context -- there were numerous public accounts -- television, radio, newspapers, magazines, even some books -- indicating what was going on.

And there was a collective failure -- commissioners, club officials, Players Association, and players -- to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it effectively early on. So an environment was created in which illegal use became widespread.

JEFFREY BROWN: But are you suggesting -- because you do cite cases where club officials seem to know something. Are you suggesting that this all took place while authorities either decided not to look or acquiesced with a wink and a nod? Explain a little bit more about that culture and how it actually worked.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I explained it in great detail in my report, and I do not use the words that you've just used. But I pointed out that there were numerous public indications, newspaper articles, as I've said, and a variety of others, and yet no action was taken. It was collective in nature in that everyone involved in baseball should share some part of the responsibility.

JEFFREY BROWN: I listed some of the recommendations that you've come forward in this set-up. What do you think is the most important thing going forward that baseball must do to address this?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I believe it's to accept the package of recommendations that I've made. The first is to begin to investigate aggressively allegations of use that are outside of the drug-testing program. That's the current best practice in programs around the world, and it's very much needed here.

The second is to significantly improve their education program.

And the third is to improve the drug-testing program itself. While no drug-testing program by itself is a sufficient, comprehensive effort, it is a linchpin -- or at least the central part -- of any comprehensive effort. And so it can be improved by accepting the recommendations that I've made.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you do write a lot about drugs that are currently undetectable. Are you confident now that, as we sit here today, that current players are still using drugs?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I think that's almost certain. Within just the past few weeks, a number of players have been identified publicly -- through other investigations, not mine -- ongoing federal and state investigations which have focused on pharmacies and so-called rejuvenation centers, who sell these drugs over the Internet.

And, in my judgment, it's likely that continues and perhaps other users, as well. I made very clear in my report -- I stated explicitly that I repeat, I emphasize that I didn't get every name. I don't know every supplier. I reported on those that we identified and learned about. But almost certainly there are other suppliers and other users.

Implications for current players

George Mitchell
Former Senator
I think what's needed is everybody turning the page and looking to the future. And I think the commissioner can get that off to the right start by saying that we're not going to impose discipline, except in those rare cases.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your report advises against punishing players. Why?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, first, because under the law -- and that covers baseball -- any discipline must be applied as of the state of the law at the time the action occurred. All of the offenses that I discuss in my report occurred from two to nine years ago. At that time, there was not a penalty for a first positive test under the program.

Secondly, more than half the players are no longer in baseball, and therefore they are not subject to the disciplinary authority of the commissioner.

Third, the most important thing is to look forward, to get everybody in baseball together behind a comprehensive and a meaningful effort to deal with this problem. You're not going to be able to do that if you spend the next couple of years in controversial disciplinary proceedings hashing over the past.

I think what's needed is everybody turning the page and looking to the future. And I think the commissioner can get that off to the right start by saying that we're not going to impose discipline, except in those rare cases where the action is so serious, in order to protect the integrity of the game, he must do so.

JEFFREY BROWN: But is there not the possibility that, in spreading the blame as widely as you have, if no one is punished, there is no particular incentive for anyone to change their behavior in the future where you want everyone to be so focused?

GEORGE MITCHELL: No, just the contrary. The fact is, of course, that over 250 professional baseball players have already been publicly identified as having used steroids illegally through the drug-testing program.

Now, they weren't prosecuted criminally. The authorities, the prosecutorial authorities -- the Department of Justice and state prosecutors -- don't concentrate on the end-users in these cases. They go after the suppliers, the manufacturers, and the distributors, as they should do so.

And so now the way to do this, I think, is to turn everybody's attention to the future, to focus on getting agreement on a comprehensive program. Then, I think the commissioner would have a very strong basis to impose strong discipline on anybody who violated in the future.

JEFFREY BROWN: You were quite critical, though, in the report of the Players Association. You said that they have delayed things in the past. You said that most of the players you tried to talk to did not talk to you for your report.

Do you have any confidence that, moving forward, the sense that the players now get it, that there will be more cooperation?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I also pointed out in my report that the Players Association has, in fact, cooperated in the past. In 2002, they ended many years of opposition to a mandatory, random drug-testing program by agreeing to one. They should get credit for that. They also agreed to improvements in the program over the past five years.

I think that they can -- and I hope that they will -- continue that attitude of progress to improve the program, because it's in their interest and the interests of their members to do so.

Remember, if you will, that the minority of players who illegally use these substances are wrong, but the principal victims are the majority of players who don't use them. They are faced with the awful choice of either having to become illegal users themselves, break the law and baseball policy, or being at a competitive disadvantage.

They're members of the Players Association, as well. And I think the best interests of all concerned would be that people now turned the page on the past, look to the future, and come up with the best possible program to eliminate or at least significantly reduce the number of illegal users, and thereby level the playing field for all of the players.

Athletes as role models

George Mitchell
Former Senator
Remember, teenagers are going through a period in their life when they're subject to severe hormonal changes. The psychological and physical risks to them are much greater than they are to mature adults.

JEFFREY BROWN: And speaking of victims, you also talked today a good deal about how this goes beyond Major League Baseball. You talked about hundreds of thousands of high school athletes that use steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. You connect that to what goes on at the major league level.

GEORGE MITCHELL: It's an alarming figure. The estimates are from 3 percent to 6 percent. Even at 3 percent, it is hundreds of thousands of young Americans, our children, who are using steroids.

This is not just baseball players. Let's be clear about that. Kids don't just look up to baseball players. They look up to all professional athletes. And when they use these steroids, because they see the professional athletes doing it, it has tremendous risks and dangers for young people, more than for adults.

Remember, teenagers are going through a period in their life when they're subject to severe hormonal changes. The psychological and physical risks to them are much greater than they are to mature adults.

And the most shocking thing to me in this whole investigation, the most alarming figure is not that dozens of Major League Baseball players used steroids; it's that hundreds of thousands of American children use them, placing themselves, their lives and their futures at risk. That ought to shock everybody, not just baseball fans.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Senator George Mitchell, thank you very much.


JIM LEHRER: You can ask your questions about the Mitchell report and the use of steroids in baseball to sportswriters John Feinstein and Lance Williams. Williams is the co-author of the book that broke the Barry Bonds steroids story. To participate, just go to