By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007
NEW YORK, Dec. 13 -- The report on performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball released Thursday outlined a general road map for improving baseball's drug testing system, but prescribed no timetable and few specific directives. Many significant details, ultimately, were left to be hashed over by baseball's ownership and players' union, the two entities blamed in the report for responding slowly and ineffectively to the game's steroid crisis from the outset.
Anti-doping experts questioned whether the report's release should be considered a landmark event in baseball's fight against steroids and other drugs. Some noted that even if all of the recommendations were adopted, baseball's program still could fall short of international standards, and several expressed doubt that meaningful changes would occur -- particularly given the public's and officials' preoccupation with the names of the dozens of players implicated in the report.
Baseball's owners and union have twice reopened the collective bargaining agreement since 2004 to strengthen the league's drug testing program in response to criticism, but experts say the system remains far from meeting the international norms advanced by the World Anti-Doping Agency, a quasi-governmental organization that oversees international anti-doping efforts and promotes uniform rules and penalties for doping violations.
Nearly every major sports federation in the world outside of the four U.S. professional sports leagues has signed on to WADA's anti-doping code.
"Given the history . . . any reasonable person would be skeptical," said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "But all of us who have the best interests of our sports at heart hope immediate steps are taken."
Robert Weiner, a spokesman for former White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey who has remained outspoken on anti-doping matters, called baseball's existing anti-drug policy "a sham" and added that it "will remain weak under Mitchell's proposals."
At a news conference Thursday shortly after Mitchell released his report, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said he embraced the document's recommendations. He pledged that he would take action immediately on all issues not requiring the approval of the players' association, but offered few details of his plans. Selig said only that baseball immediately would eliminate the 24-hour advance notice in its current testing program, which critics have said allows players time to expunge drugs from their system.
"Those recommendations I can implement independently, I will do so immediately," Selig said. On matters requiring collective bargaining, "I will be reaching out to [players' union executive director] Don Fehr and the players' association in the immediate future."
Fehr said during a later news conference that the union would be receptive to the recommendations but declined to comment further until he had read the report.
"I don't think there is any suggestion that the program we have in place now is not working appropriately and effectively," Fehr said.
Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, disputed any such assessment.
The report, Pound said, "should explode this public-relations myth -- despite all the evidence to the contrary -- that there is no problem in baseball, that they've got it licked and have a robust program. It's just nonsense."
Mitchell, who authored the report along with attorneys at DLA Piper, his law firm, proposed that baseball put its testing program in the hands of an independent administrator but stopped short of recommending turning operations over to the highly regarded U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, one of the many national anti-doping organizations under WADA's umbrella. That option has long pushed for by lawmakers, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and many anti-doping experts.
Mitchell added that it was up to baseball's owners and players to decide the framework of the new testing system and even whether to address the matter before the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011. He also said Selig should create a "Department of Investigation" led by a senior baseball executive, who would report directly to baseball's president with the task of aggressively responding to allegations of illegal drug use or possession by players.
Several anti-doping experts said baseball's testing program would struggle for credibility unless it were handed off to a completely independent entity. "At the end of the day, they really need to get out of the anti-doping business," said Gary Wadler, chairman of WADA's prohibited list and methods subcommittee. "They don't have to invent [a new system]. They just have to adopt" the program accepted by Olympic sports and other international federations.
Any investigative arm, several experts said, should have the same independence. Pound questioned whether the department of investigation Mitchell prescribed could be either credible or effective.
"Baseball's going to set up a special 'baseball FBI' with no power to investigate, no power to seize evidence, no power to compel witnesses to come forward?" Pound said. "That's going to be kind of a farce."
The report stated that the various recommendations -- which ranged from instituting a stronger drug education program to logging packages sent to players at state ballparks -- were designed to work in tandem to create a state-of-the art program. The report maintained that "there are a number of methods by which true independence may be achieved."
Mitchell also recommended that Selig -- who hired him and his firm to produce the report in March 2006 -- forgo punishing the dozens of players implicated in the report unless their violations clearly demanded action. Pound decried Mitchell's recommendation as "outrageous and inappropriate."
Baseball is "at very much a fork in the road," Wadler said. "They have a chance to do the right thing, to take the right fork or incrementally respond to this crisis and tweak the program."