This is Part Four of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the ongoing steroid scandal and recently announced investigation. So far, this week, I’ve looked at the hapless Royals, the troubled Nationals, and the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox. On Monday, I’ll have fun but pointless predictions for you.
Following the winter of discontent, Bud Selig shocked nobody today in announcing that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell will be heading up an investigation into illegal drug use in Major League Baseball.
While this announcement had been rumored since excerpts of the damning Game of Shadows hit the pages of Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago, many aspects of this investigation bear watching. Only time will tell if Mitchell’s efforts will amount to a true attempt at cleaning up the game or a witch hunt directed at Barry Bonds as he homers his way passed Babe Ruth and toward Hank Aaron.
From the get-go, this investigation has the touch of an insider effort from the ownership and the Commissioner’s Office. While a formidable investigator, George Mitchell is hardly an impartial observer. Mitchell is a director of the Boston Red Sox. His name falls right below that of Larry Lucchino’s on the masthead.
Already, the investigation has the potential for controversy. Will Mitchell out someone on the Red Sox? During the Thursday press conference, Mitchell said he would investigate the Red Sox as he will every other team.
Meanwhile, baseball’s investigative mandate is wrought with conflict. First, Selig, in announcing the investigation, declined to mentioned Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield or Jason Giambi by name. Rather, he noted that there had been “an alleged relationship between certain players and BALCO defendant, Greg Anderson. A recent book has amplified the allegations and raises ethical issues that must be confronted head-on.”
But just how head-on will baseball be confronted this issue? Well, the adhere to the “it wasn’t against the rules before 2002” argument which I’ll address in a minute, Selig has limited the scope of the investigation. “I have asked Senator Mitchell to attempt to determine, as a factual matter, whether any Major League players associated with BALCO or otherwise used steroids or other illegal performance enhancing substances at any point after the substances were banned by the 2002 – 2006 collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “The goal is to determine facts, not engage in supposition, speculation, rumor or innuendo.”
Already, the investigation seems a little toothless. If what Game of Shadows, Howard Bryant’s Juicing the Game and Jose Canseco’s book all contain bits and pieces of the truth, then steroids were a problem in baseball long before the testing program began in 2002. In fact, this witch hunt doesn’t even touch Bonds’ 73-home run season. But there is an “unless.”
“It may be that conduct before the effective date of the 2002 Basic Agreement will prove helpful in reaching the necessary factual determinations,” Selig said. “And, if the Senator so concludes, he will investigate such earlier conduct as well. Indeed, should Senator Mitchell uncover material suggesting that the scope of the investigation needs to be broader, he has my permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”
So now it’s getting interesting. Mitchell could potentially uncover a trail of steroid use stretching back to the late 1980s. And that investigation could find evidence of this steroid use by simply opening up a very good book. Howard Bryant detailed steroid use in baseball going back to the late 1980s and Jose Canseco’s arrival in Oakland. If Mitchell and his fellow investigators happen to crack open a copy of Juicing the Game, would that count as “uncover[ing] material suggesting that the scope of the investigation needs to be broader”? I would have to say yes.
So with something of a carte blanche from Commissioner Bud Selig, something no investigator has been granted since John Dowd went after Pete Rose, how did Mitchell respond? Well, he started off his investigation by, um, asking nicely for players to cooperate with him. “I invite those who believe they have information relating to the use of steroids and other illegal performance enhancing drugs by Major League baseball players to come forward with that information so that it might be considered in the context of all of the evidence. I further request full cooperation from all those we contact who might have relevant information,” he said.
There you have it, folks. The man in charge of baseball’s grand steroid investigation didn’t even say please. My parents would be quite disappointed. It is the magic word, after all.
So Mitchell has announced the start of his inquiry by asking if anyone, any member in that infamously frigid and unyielding Players’ Union, will come forward and implicate their teammates or fellow union members. He also hopes that those he contacts will be helpful. I hope $1 million shows up on my door step in the morning, but I’m not expecting too. It’s called wishful thinking, and it’s not going to get Mitchell anywhere.
Meanwhile, those on the field had the chance to respond to the start of the investigation. During an interview today on the NBC Nightly News, Joe Torre wondered whether or not the investigation would do anything other than bring names out into the public. He said players could not be suspended because steroid use wasn’t against the rules until 2002.
Now, as a Yankee fan, I’ve always respected Torre, but I am sick of this line of reasoning. Sure, steroid use may not have been explicitly against the Major League Baseball rules. However, it was illegal. As one of the many pieces I read about this today said (and sorry I do not have a link right now), if a runner murdered the second baseman, would that be ok with those in baseball? It’s not explicitly written in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that it’s not okay to murder your opponents. Granted, that’s a little extreme, but the point remains.
So now baseball not only has to deal with the fallout from Game of Shadows and the ongoing federal investigation into Bonds’ finances and a potential perjury charge, but the sport has to face its own internal investigation that is already rife with controversy. Adding to that is the distinct possibility that Barry Bonds will have passed Babe Ruth on the home run list by the middle of May.
It’s a tough time for baseball when Bud Selig, the champion of celebrating everything, would not commit to a celebration of Barry Bonds were he to pass Ruth and Aaron this season. As the 2006 season approaches, baseball fans seem destined for another year when the off-field soap opera matches the on-field drama of a hot pennant race. This too shall pass.