By Dave Sheinin and Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
In some of the first comments by a high-ranking major league team official on the findings of the Mitchell report, Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten said the team had no advance notice that catcher Paul Lo Duca, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Nationals on Dec. 11, would be named in the controversial report two days later. But Kasten did not say whether the team would have gone through with the signing had it been known.
Speaking to a small group of reporters in a conference room at the Nationals' RFK Stadium headquarters, Kasten said he was "disappointed" that Lo Duca and several former Nationals were included in the report by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell into performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, and said he would encourage Lo Duca to cooperate with Commissioner Bud Selig if Selig requests further information in exploring potential punishments for players named in the report.
"Every team did business as usual" this offseason, Kasten said, "because we do have a [drug-testing] program in place, and there are procedures in place to deal with anyone who violates the program. I think everyone was comfortable just leaving it to those procedures, and that's how we will move forward."
Kasten did not discuss Lo Duca by name, citing legal reasons, but confirmed he has "had dialogue" with the player or his agent since the report's release. Four former Nationals -- Mike Stanton, Nook Logan, Jose Guillen and Gary Bennett -- also were named.
Players named in the report "are making their own decision about whether to respond, what kind of response to have," Kasten said. Those "are personal decisions. From our own part, the most important thing to me is to secure the fullest possible cooperation with the commissioner's office. That's what's really important to me."
Kasten's comments come as teams and players across baseball continue to digest the findings and ramifications of Mitchell's report, which followed a 21-month investigation commissioned by Selig in March 2006, and they stand in stark contrast to the response put forth late Saturday night by the Baltimore Orioles, a franchise hit particularly hard in the Mitchell report.
"The Orioles," the statement read in part, "caution observers to resist the temptation to accept collective judgments based upon unsubstantiated allegations." The statement also said a player "must not be judged responsible by mere association, and is innocent . . . until proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt."
The statement did not refer to specific players -- the report named two current and 17 former Orioles -- and owner Peter Angelos, a noted litigator, did not return telephone messages seeking comment yesterday, but a team source said it referred most directly to the case of current Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.
While many other players in the report are linked to the use of steroids or human growth hormone by eyewitness accounts or documentary evidence, the only evidence of Roberts's alleged use cited in the report was an account provided by former Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie, who told Mitchell's investigators that Roberts confided in him that he had injected himself with steroids "once or twice" in 2003.
Mitchell, through a spokesman, declined to comment yesterday on the Orioles' statement, but when asked during an interview Friday about the evidence against Roberts, Mitchell said, "That's a direct admission, by Roberts to Bigbie." Mitchell also pointed out that Roberts, like all players included in the report, was offered a chance to meet with investigators to discuss his case, but declined.
Selig, through a spokesman, also declined to comment yesterday on the Orioles' statement.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), ranking minority member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on Mitchell's report for Jan. 15, expressed little sympathy for Roberts or other players named in the report who might protest their inclusion.
"Every player named was given an opportunity to meet with Senator Mitchell," Davis said. "If they refused to do that, he went ahead and listed what he had. They only have their selves to blame. They all knew they were under consideration. You stonewall it, you have to live with consequences."
Both Selig and union chief Donald Fehr are expected to testify at the House committee's hearing, and Davis said they will be expected to demonstrate a willingness to implement the suggestions for strengthening the sport's testing program that Mitchell made in the report.
"It's pretty clear that if they don't get this done, Congress is going to threaten action," Davis said. "We've always respected the collective bargaining process. But I think this is going to give them a nudge. . . . We're not afraid to do what we have to do."
According to a source familiar with the discussions, Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor operations, sent a letter to the union yesterday seeking to open those discussions.