Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mitchell Report

It took me three hours to drive the 4+ miles home from work last night. So, between switching back and forth between the MIT and Emerson College radio stations, I listened to a lot of sports talk. That means I heard more opinions than anyone would want to on the Mitchell Report.

It's amazing how quickly Roger Clemens has been tried, convicted and sentenced in "the court of public opinion", a grossly overused phrase that, nevertheless, is almost perfectly fitting. I say this because, as far as I can tell, the Mitchell Report, released yesterday, is essentially analogous to the gathering of evidence to determine if there's enough to bring the accused to trial. Yet, it appears already that Clemens' legacy, and his status as a future Hall of Famer, is irreparably tarnished.

Maybe I'm overdoing it with this legal system analogy, but I personally think the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty shouldn't be completely disregarded when it comes to matters outside of the courts. Clemens, of course, is not the only person this applies to. He's just the one who stands to lose the most.

Consider Brian Roberts. The only mention of his name in the report is in reference to him having lunch with teammates David Segui and Larry Bigbie, and convicted steroids dealer Kirk Radomski. The following year, according to Bigbie, Roberts admitted to him that he had injected himself once or twice. That's it. In his report, Mitchell states, "I have not included every allegation that we received or the results of every interview we conducted or every document we reviewed. Inevitably, much of that information was cumulative, not relevant, or of only marginal relevance. None of it would have materially altered the account that is provided." So, based on a very weak piece of evidence, Mitchell apparently decided that it was materially relevant to include Roberts in his report.

This brings to mind two questions. First, how unsubstantial and irrelevant was the information he left out? Second, why did Mitchell consider the evidence regarding Roberts relevant? No one claims to have injected him, or to have seen him get injected, and he didn't influence anyone to begin taking steroids. Bigbie was already using on his own, according to his own admission. Was it because Mitchell considered the information relevant to the "case" (and I use that term loosely) against Bigbie? Unlikely, as Bigbie was offering him all the information he needed on himself. Or, was it that Mitchell decided to show no sympathy towards the players who declined to speak with him? I guess we'll never know. Honestly, I think it was a mistake on the part of the Players' Association to advise their members not to comply, but Mitchell's inclusion of Roberts' name is an irresponsible error in judgment, and damaging to his credibility.

Yes, I said it. I'm questioning George Mitchell's credibility. To that point, I find it interesting that there are two separate instances in the report that refer to the fact that the Red Sox front office inquired about the possible use of steroids regarding two players they were looking to acquire, Eric Gagne and Brendan Donnelly. How about that? The Sox front office should be praised for their due diligence in assuring that they fill out their roster with only players who are outstanding citizens of the game. I wonder what Mitchell's motives could have been for casting such a favorable light on Red Sox management? That's a tough one.

Who knows? I could be out of line on that previous accusation. I'd have to read the entire report to determine if there is even one mention of another team's front office making such inquiries. Or maybe it's because Mitchell has better access to the transcripts of Theo Epstein's email. But, I still find it curious.

Next, there is the matter of the type of evidence that the majority of the report is based on...statements by Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee. Statements that, in court, would be a matter of one person's word against another's, at which point the credibility of the witness comes into question. Would Radomski and McNamee be considered highly credible witnesses? I think not. Yet, I'm already reading and hearing Roger Clemens' name being instantly lumped in with Barry Bonds'. There is a mountain of evidence that has been piling up over the past few years against Bonds. Yesterday was the first piece of concrete evidence, other than the usual speculation about body type and improved performance, against Clemens.

Let's not rush to judgment here, folks. I'm not saying Clemens is innocent. In fact, my gut tells me that time will not bring forth the kind of evidence that will exonerate the Rocket and clear his name. I just think it's irresponsible to not take a step back, review the evidence that's been put forth and wait to hear what other information is out there that we have yet to hear, maybe even what Clemens has to say in his own defense.

The most rational analysis I've read or heard since this all came down is Jayson Stark's column on I urge every serious baseball fan who wishes to develop an informed opinion on the subject to start by reading what Stark has to say. In fact, I'm going to call this required reading of anyone who wishes to discuss this issue with me. This may sound arrogant, but if you haven't read Stark's column, then don't even bring up the subject with me.

Next, read some of the report. I realize it's a monstrous 400+ page document, and I certainly don't claim to have read the entire thing myself. But, it's not difficult to think about what points of reference you're most interested in learning more about, search within the PDF for a particular term, and start reading. I guarantee this will lead you to your next curiosity, which will result in you searching on another term, and on and on from there.

When Mark McGwire received such a lack of support in his Hall of Fame bid this past year, I thought that maybe he was getting a raw deal based on what little we knew about what he was guilty of. It's not enough to say, "Look at him! He must be taking steroids!" I don't care if it's painfully obvious to you, there has to be more than that to base a credible opinion on. At the same time, I didn't disagree with voters who said that they simply wanted to wait until there was more information regarding McGwire's alleged steroid use. In that sense, they were saying they weren't certain of his Hall of Fame worthiness yet, and I don't have a problem with that.

The same applies to Clemens. If he were up for vote this year, and if I had a ballot, he would probably not be on it, simply because there's nothing wrong with making him wait a year to see how things shake out. Fortunately, we'll have five years to consider what the truth is. It's looking increasingly likely that both Clemens and Bonds will be on the ballot in January of 2013. By then, we'll probably have a pretty good idea how they will fare, but one thing's for sure...if they are both denied entrance, it will be a sad reminder of how this era has left us with no idea of who is great and who isn't. Because if those two can't be considered legends, then who can?

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