Thursday, December 13, 2007

Musing on the Mitchell Report

Well, I've had a bit of time to think on the Mitchell Report and its effect on baseball. I also got to listen to a bit of sports talk radio and that was surely entertaining.

Here's my two shekels.

The report is anything but a complete document, even at a mind boggling 408 pages. It barely scratches the surface and it omits some very prominent names that have been linked with performance enhancement over the past decade, including Sammy Sosa.

The people that were included in the report are those that Mitchell couldn't have gotten unless he caught two very lucky breaks.

Without Brian McNamee or Kirk Radomski, Mitchell would have had next to nothing to work with. He didn't have subpoena power, and the only current players who talked with him were Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi, and Giambi put himself in jeopardy by making an offhanded comment that he had taken some form of performance enhancing drugs. The other active players didn't talk, and there was absolutely no incentive for them to do so. Not talking has proved to be the more prudent step. That's not to say that was the right thing to do, just what these players determined was in their own interest. What the fans best interest was never played a role. Teams and owners looked the other way as players grew larger and faster and the numbers of homers went through the roof and attendance grew to match - so everyone was happy even though things were built on the fact that a significant number of players were juicing.

The rules by which Mitchell put this report together are not the rules of evidence that one would see in a court of law. Hearsay is the name of the game here, and competent lawyers would rip these reports to shreds for those named players. There are canceled checks and claims that money was given, but those players' lawyers could ask what was actually received in return. They could claim those were gifts. Hey, all they need to do in front of a jury is to raise reasonable doubt.

Already, you're seeing Clemens' representatives coming out and blasting the report and those accusing him in the report of using drugs. Defending against the smear is a tough job, and I really don't know if they're going to muster a legal case, because that means the dreaded discovery phase, where everyone's comments are fair game and the questions get real uncomfortable.

This report names less than 100 players, which itself is curious because the league admits that more than that number tested positive in the first year of steroid testing. Why the disconnect?

Commissioner Selig said that the report was a call to action and that the league would take action against those named. Fat chance. Nothing is going to happen without the union stepping in, and they're not going to let the League do anything against the players unless it's by the collective bargaining agreement. They're not going to let those players named get smeared by the report without a fight.

However, what really bugs me is not necessarily the big names that are on the list, but the lower tier guys. The ones that we skip over because we see names like Clemens or Pettite or Tejada.

I'm looking at the guys who made the big show because they took performance enhancing drugs. They didn't only get richer for doing it, but they kept someone else from making it big.

These players might have taken slots meant for someone else - someone who used only their raw talent and abilities without performance enhancing drugs.

Those players may have seen that they'd been passed over and felt that they too had no choice but to do something to get an edge; thus beginning a cruel cycle that adds to the problems in the league.

Then, there's the issue of the media reporting on this whole thing. This morning, legalbgl posted a leaked report showing the names of those implicated. That early list was wrong. Flat out wrong.

Names that were on that list were wrong. Where did that list come from? Who put that list together? Was that an early draft of the report, or did someone have something against a player like Johnny Damon or Wally Joyner or Albert Pujols, three names that got smeared in all this? Shoddy reporting and the quest to be first on the report definitely played a role here. I don't blame legalbgl for running with the report, which quickly made its way to Drudge and multiple outlets, and he did run updates and corrections as he went. The problem is that the sourcing on the original story was bad, and NBC needs to expose their source.

NBC has some explaining to do as they're the ones who ran those early stories and named names before the report was officially released by MLB.

UPDATE 12/14/2007:
The Smoking Gun has more on the timeline as to how NBC and Jonathan Dienst came to report the bogus list. NBC and Dienst have yet to apologize or explain their actions.
The list was eventually yanked from the WNBC web site out of "an abundance of caution," the station reported in an updated story. The station has yet to retract (or apologize for) its original reporting.
It's hilarious to read that it was retracted out of an abundance of caution. If there was an abundance of caution it would have been to check those names against MLB itself, which didn't appear to have happened. Instead, they went with the information they had. Yanking the list was out of caution of being sued (which could still happen because those who were listed by NBC could sue for defamation because they were not on the official Mitchell Report list). Because so many people linked to those early reports, I've gone back and stricken through the names of the earlier story so that no one gets the wrong names involved here.

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