The Mitchell Report: No Home Run
Former Senator George Mitchell’s baseball exposé failed to do much except to siphon millions of dollars, cause tension between the commissioner and the players’ association, and annoy fans. Pro or con?
Pro: Exorbitant Agitation
Newton’s Law says every action has an equal but opposite reaction. That doesn’t necessarily apply to baseball, where Commissioner Bud Selig may have gotten more than he bargained for with the public release of the Mitchell Report on Dec. 13.
With the U.S. government’s blessing, Selig and Major League Baseball sank an estimated $20 million into the project. Facing pressure from Congress regarding performance-enhancing drug issues, baseball had to do something. But a study that merely exhumed a chilling scandal may not have merited the price.
The report’s ostensible purpose is to bring closure to a drawn-out scandal that has plagued baseball for years. But instead of closing the book, the Mitchell Report opens Pandora’s box. Putting new policies in place will call for further investments. Legal fees will mount if players decide to sue for defamation. And a brutal collision with the Major League Baseball Players Assn. is looming.
Player agents are livid. "You give people credit for good intentions, for wanting to explore the depth and breadth of the problem and come up with recommendations to solve it. If that’s the case, why the need to name names?" asks longtime agent Barry Axelrod, who represents Wally Joyner, a former big-leaguer mentioned in the report.
One has to wonder: If not for the Mitchell Report’s stirring up trouble, would baseball fans really care? Rumors about Roger Clemens and others on the list have been circling throughout their careers, and baseball attendance and revenue continue to increase. It’s now a $6 billion industry.
MLB is wholly unprepared to deal with the questions left unanswered by the report. What should the league do about limiting use of the human growth hormone (HGH)? What happens to the players named in the report? What happens the next time someone is caught cheating? The Mitchell Report is hardly "bring[ing] a close to this troubling chapter in baseball’s history," as its pages state. According to Axelrod, "This is the farthest thing from closure."
Con: Milestone for Truth
So the right way to handle this issue was to push it under the rug? The Mitchell Report constitutes a necessary step and, ultimately, a good thing for baseball. So it cost $20 million? If it curbs use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, it was money well spent. Whether baseball can deal with the findings is a separate issue.
No one expected the Mitchell Report to serve as an end-all on the topic. Instead, it has opened up a line of communication between the commissioner’s office and the players’ union. Clearly, no one has a quick fix, but with the findings in the report, it’s hard to argue with the fact that baseball has a problem.
Before the report, the controversy lacked concrete evidence: no checks written out to trainers, no sworn testimonies from players. It was all hearsay. Now we have that proof. Mitchell’s job was not to punish players but rather to uncover the truth.
Do baseball fans care? Of course they do. Look at the response Barry Bonds received on recent road trips. If fans didn’t care, he would have been hailed a hero in every city he visited, with no mention of asterisks or shadows over his home-run record. Instead, he’s vilified. Now, the players named in the report can expect similarly cool receptions at every visiting field they walk onto for the rest of their careers.
And I’m sorry, but I can’t work up any sympathy for Wally Joyner. Players had the chance to explain themselves to Mitchell. The only one who agreed to do so was Jason Giambi. If others hadn’t used HGH, steroids, or whatever else, why didn’t they talk to Mitchell? Player agents are livid only because this will mean less money in their pockets, since teams won’t pay big money for damaged goods.
Odds are, we will never know exactly who used what, and when, and for how long. But instead of letting it go on, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball chose to act. Every dollar spent on fixing the problem—for legal fees, new policies, testing—will be worth it if it makes baseball a little cleaner.Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.