Friday, December 14, 2007

Nothing is revealed

Posted By on 12.14.07 at 06:37 PM

The release of the Mitchell report was typical senatorial bunkum, a lot of hard talk and rhetoric to gloss over what is really a boilerplate rehash of things already known. Gary Matthews Jr. and Bobby Estalella used steroids? You don't say. Barry Bonds, too? I'm shocked, shocked. The only real earthshaker was trainer Brian McNamee's claim that he injected pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte with steroids or human growth hormone while they were with the Yankees. That's direct testimony, not hearsay, but as McNamee and his Met counterpart Kirk Radomski, George Mitchell's other primary source, are both facing criminal charges, with ample motive to exaggerate their stories, they aren't all that reliable. Any reasonable person would look at them differently on the witness stand rather than just reading about them in the sports section. Otherwise, the list of player names the Mitchell Report delivered was based on circumstantial evidence: checks, phone records, order slips, and the like. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus called it "a document as flimsy as the paper it's printed on." Former Sox pitcher Jim Parque, for one, insisted he wrote checks to Radomski for supplements and herbs, not steroids. Mitchell was free to point a finger, but none of the accused answered his call. As my old Daily Southtown colleague T.J. Quinn said on ESPN, "What we learned today is George Mitchell had a lot of trouble getting people to talk to him."

Both sportswriters and fans clearly wanted more, and they almost got it. New York TV reporter Jonathan Dienst released a far more extensive list of names on the wnbc.com Web site before the Mitchell Report was actually delivered Thursday, then pulled it back -- after it had already received wide circulation through news agencies, discussion boards, and automated e-mail -- when major league officials said it was erroneous. A subsequent wnbc.com story explained that Dienst's sources stood by the list as an "original" that was later pared down for the official report, although by Friday the station was issuing a complete apology and clarification. Regardless, players like Albert Pujols, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior, who all appeared on the Web site's list, were not only besmirched, they remained tainted by the Mitchell report's failure to deliver anything concrete. So while I'd like to think the Mitchell report is a step toward closure, it's really just a bad wallpaper job leaving the structural problems unsolved. BP's Nate Silver called it "an apparently well-documented and well-balanced account of the problem," and if that leads to better, more stringent testing great, but as a "J'accuse" it's sadly lacking, and it isn't going to calm anyone's suspicions.

Mitchell and MLB knew it, too, which is no doubt why the report was issued simultaneously with Mitchell's news conference -- so no one had the chance to actually read it and ask intelligent questions about it. (Even baseball commissioner Bud Selig, given an advance copy, admitted he hadn't read it, apparently because the large-type, second-grade-primer version wasn't out yet.) I haven't seen reporters rushing around like that trying to digest a heavy document instantaneously since the U.S. Supreme Court dropped its ruling on the 2000 presidential election on the front steps. Hey, no wonder baseball remains the national pastime. 

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