The Steroid Investigation/Mitchell Commission is less than one week old, but already, Bud Selig is rushing to the defense of his chosen investigator George Mitchell.
Since naming Mitchell the lead on what many view as an important but symbolic attempt to clean up the sport, Selig has come under fire for appointing an insider to investigate an inside problem. Mitchell is a director of the Boston Red Sox and chairman of the Disney Corporation. Disney owns ESPN which is one of baseball’s best business partners. The sports network is also airing a reality show following Barry Bonds, the eye of the steroid storm, as he nears 714 and 755.
Yesterday, speaking in Chicago after giving the White Sox players their World Series rings, Selig tried to deflect the growing groundswell of criticism. “It’s important for somebody who understands what I call the morays of culture of this sport as well as he does. That helps in the investigation. That doesn’t hurt it,” Selig said to the Associated Press.
And right there is the problem with this investigation. One of the many characterizations of baseball throughout the steroid scandal has been of an insular culture that protects their own. The owners, long complacent in the Steroid Era, will not hang their multimillion-dollar investments out to dry. The Players Union won’t throw out any of their members as sacrificial lambs. The culture is one of secrecy, camaraderie and mutual protection.
So along comes Bud, saying that Mitchell understands “the morays of the culture of this sport.” It’s those morays that got baseball in trouble in the first place. Now, Selig is citing those morays as a rationale for appointing an insider to head up the investigation.
Selig continued the defense of Mitchell. “He has complete autonomy. He wouldn’t have taken this without complete autonomy. I mean the fact that we’re friends had nothing to do with it,” Selig said. “He doesn’t come back and talk to me. I don’t want to hear from him. And he can do whatever he wants with whomever he wants. So I don’t know how anybody could have more independence than Sen. Mitchell.”
This is just getting worse for Selig. In two paragraphs, he has managed to destroy any notion of an independent investigation in my mind. The worst way to convince your critics that the investigation you appointed is autonomous is by calling him a friend of yours. But there goes Bud: “I mean the fact that we’re friends has nothing to do with.” Whatever you say, Bud.
Furthermore, Selig also doesn’t want to hear from Mitchell. Well, if I had just appointed a blue ribbon panel to investigate damaging charges of steroid use in the sport of which I’ve been in charge for the last decade and a half, I would probably want to hear about the investigation. Not Bud though.
Maybe he doesn’t want to hear about the investigation because he already knows what Mitchell will find. As an owner and then the commissioner of the sport, I’m sure Selig knew what was going on behind closed doors.
In the end, this investigation is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. Selig had to respond to the charges leveled against the game in Game of Shadows. He did so by appointing a hardcore insider to investigate a game with which he quite familiar. Mitchell may uncover some drug use that would surprise no one, but to level any kind of suspension based on the information found in Mitchell’s investigation, Selig would have to be willing to risk fighting the Players Union in a labor year. He won’t risk damaging the game’s reputation.
It would have been better if Selig could have appointed someone more neutral. But in reality, there was nothing he could do about it. Maybe Mitchell really will expose a huge drug subculture. But no one will be too surprised if he does. Hopefully, we can look ahead to a season and a sport without steroids and without amphetamines and recognize that as damaging as the last few years have been, the game will go on cleaner and more popular than ever. Now if only Selig would find someone other than his friend to name to the investigation.