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.

Reader Comments

Rich

Which is more important, for people to make money or the truth to come out? I think it's the second one.

Greggy

Why did this cost the taxpayers 20 large? Aren't those involved in conducting the investigation already on some sort of salary? How about a statement of expenditures?

Bill Perry

The Mitchell Report proved absolutely nothing except that all the suspicions that have been going around for the past several years are still there. The report is mostly hearsay and innuendo and would fail as proof in any court of law. So the report names a few names, but it did not name all the names, and it cannot prove that even the names it identifies have been involved in any wrongdoing. Prior to the report, Mr. Mitchell was considered a man of considerable integrity, which is why he was picked to do the report. However, this report could have been done, and done better, by a group of nameless lawyers, and probably should have been done by them. Little, if anything, will come of the report. It will be buried in the files and looked back upon as one of the reports on baseball that didn't amount to much. Or to quote another life observer, it seems the report is "much ado about nothing."

Rob

How did this investigation cost $20 million? Did they hire the oil companies to do the job? Ten private investigators working for $250 a day for 365 days would only come out to $913,000. Get my meaning?

Golstiker

Bill Perry, open your eyes. Were it not for Congress, none of this would have been exposed. The start was when those idiots McGuire and Palmeiro went before the lawmakers and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt their (in Palmeiro's case) lying and (in McGuire's case) stupidity, further proving that baseball players are among the dumbest athletes ever to put on a jockstrap. Much ado about nothing? It is precisely attitudes like yours that allow what is going on in baseball to continue. Exposing cheaters is critical to protect the innocent--those who did not cheat. If for no other reason, this is why Congress should not rest until they expose more and more players. This "cover-up" has existed for years and is part of a good ol' boy network to protect the large percentage of players who were juicing. It's time to bite the bullet, stop the cheating, and try to purge baseball of this sinister, insidious era that has produced bloated records, a demise of sporting character, and an atmosphere in which "not getting caught" and "doing nothing illegal" trumps every athlete's unwritten code to compete fairly against the opposition.

Scott

Well said, Golstiker.

This investigation cost $20 million, because it's costly to fly people around the country for months, pay for ground transportation, hotels, catering for meetings, etc., while paying salaries--trust me, consultants, lawyers, and investigators make far more than $250 a day; let's be real. This money had to be spent, and it's not taxpayer money--it's money from the fat wallet of Major League Baseball, which has been generating extreme revenue and profits. They can afford it, and it's money well spent.

Anyone who follows the issue closely knows that this wasn't supposed to be the final chapter in the investigation--this was supposed to expose the rampant cheating that took place in the game by providing proof and under-oath testimony. I have no sympathy for any of the players named in the report, unless they were wrongly accused and can prove so. I especially couldn't care less about the agents, who simply want to protect their clients' reputations so they can make as much money as possible.

I'm a huge baseball fan, and was turned off by the gaudy statistics generated from 1998 to 2001--while it was fun at first following McGwire and the chase for the home run record, it became nauseating watching Sammy Sosa hit more than 60 home runs three straight years, two players hitting 70 or more, and a player like Luis Gonzalez hitting 57. Only five players hit 40 or more home runs in 2007--16 hit 40 or more in 2000. And of the 34 MVP awards that were given out in the AL/NL since 1990, nearly half, 16, were given to players named in the Mitchell Report.

What's great is that we now have evidence, that for several years, many players were juiced up, vastly affecting the statistics and integrity of the game. That more than justifies the money spent. Anyone who doesn't understand this is ignorant.

But the biggest tragedy in all of this is not the loss of baseball's hallowed records. It's the minor league players who stayed clean but never achieved their dream of making it to the majors, or the clean major league players who lost their roster spot to a player who was juiced. Now we can go back to being on a level playing field and truly observe some of the greatest natural athletes in the world.

This investigation should have taken place years ago, but the commissioner's office was too slow to react (no thanks to the players' association). Now baseball can continue to investigate the situation openly and institute better policies to make sure this doesn't happen again. The Mitchell Report fights the problem indirectly, too--any player who uses steroids after this public humiliation is truly inhuman.

And now we can fight to rid of dangerous drugs that affect young athletes, many of whom are teenagers, and instill integrity, character, and sportsmanship in a sport that desperately needs it.

sue

Maybe if their salaries weren't so inflated and expectations were not so astronomical, the players would feel less pressure to use steroids. It's hard to keep your integrity when you're earning a salary the size of a small country's budget and are expected to win all the time.

carolyn

It was a good game.

john

I would truly like to know how much this steroid/HGH witch hunt is costing the American taxpayer. We should asterisk the entire steroid era. Bud Selig needs to leave, and we as a nation need to move on.

John

It was taxpayer money as a lot of the profits generated by Major League Baseball come from publicly financed stadiums. That is one of the reasons Congress had jurisdiction in this matter.

Brian

How is this worthy of the cost of taxpayers' time that all representatives in Congress owe us? How is this considered for the common good? Should they not be handling issues such as tax reform, trade treaty reform, immigration reform, infrastructure improvement, health-care improvement, exposing of government waste, protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks, etc.? What are they thinking?

tommy

I think it was a good thing that the Mitchell Report was posted, because it showed us that the players that assume to be role models and looked up to by kids are nuttin' but cheaters. It bothers me that players who are supposed to love the game can treat it with disrespect and give it a bad name. What ever happened to hard work and dedication? I'm not saying they don't work hard or anything, but why do they need to take steroids and HGM to succeed?

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