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Friday, December 14, 2007

Redemption Songs?

No matter how many times George Mitchell pleads that it should be otherwise, his report will be considered the critical document of the steroid era. It will be a key reference for any baseball historian trying to make sense of the drama, on and off the field, of the game's millennial years. Even as he was saying it, you knew as he knew, there was no way the media was going to treat Mitchell's report as merely a synecdochical glimpse into the breadth of abuse by players, and irresponsible oversight by coaches, management, and baseball officials, during the nineties and early aughts. They were going to treat it as the Word, passed down from on high, as to who was juicing and who wasn't. Every major media outlet has reduced the 409-page document to a list of players mentioned within, many utterly without regard for the context in which the players name is being brought up.

When you actually read the document you realize that the quality of evidence varies enormously between players like Larry Bigbie and David Segui, both of whom admit using steroids, and players like Brian Roberts and Jack Cust, both of whom are implicated only by off-hand conversations they had with Bigbie. Most of the named players, including almost all of the big names (Clemens, Pettitte, Tejada, Gagne, Lo Duca, Brown, etc.) are faced with evidence that falls somewhere between these two extremes, often including testimony by Kurt Radomski and Brian McNamee, former dealers, corroborated by some form of paper trail or corresponding testimony. By strange coincidence, it seems that Mitchell's most thorough, detailed accounts are reserved for higher profile players, especially Clemens, whose abuse is outlined for nearly ten pages, about seven more than any other player.

There are many interesting storylines to follow in the wake of the Mitchell Report, probably none more sweet than the public "indictments" of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, long-characterized as golden-boys of the Caucasian work ethic. However, one story likely to be overlooked during the immediate fallout by media frantically concerned with the names in the report, is the story of the names that are conspicuously absent, including Sammy Sosa, Ivan Rodriguez, Luis Gonzalez, and Brady Anderson (all of whom have been the victims of steroid speculation in the past). And some names which are present, like Bonds and McGwire, gain at least a partial redemption because no substantial new evidence is brought against them (some of the current evidence may even be called into question).

Undoubtedly, many reputations may be saved, at least in part, by the coincidence that the feds only managed to discover and utilize three major sources: BALCO, Radomski, and Signature Pharmacy (source for the Florida rejuvenation centers). Although Mitchell didn't highlight this striking inadequacy, it seems safe to say that he suggests at several places in the report and in his comments during yesterday's press conference that these three sources represent only a fraction of the supply lines available to major league players during the height of the steroid craze preceding the introduction of testing in 2002. It is this shortfall which has prompted baseball writers like Buster Olney and Drew Sharp, both Hall of Fame voters, to argue that no player from this era is free of suspicion, you have to be willing to enshrine all of them (including Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, etc.) or none of them (including Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Jeter, Biggio, etc.).

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