Dave Sheinin and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 14, 2007 10:00 AM
Washington Post reporters Dave Sheinin and Amy Shipley were online Friday, Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. ET to take your questions about the release of baseball's Mitchell Report, the study of the impact of performance-enhancing drugs on the sport.
A transcript follows.
Dave Sheinin: Hi everyone and thanks for joining our chat about yesterday's release of the Mitchell Report on steroids in baseball. We'll try to answer as many questions as we can.
Falls Church, Va.: I was wondering your take on Roger Clements and the Hall of Fame. I figure this report will keep him out on the first year but not much longer than that. Do you think it might keep him out all together?
Dave Sheinin: Clemens was clearly the biggest loser of the day, because he had the most to lose. His legacy is tainted beyond repair. We will have to wait five years (at least) to know for certain whether the revelations about Clemens will affect his Hall of Fame status, but Mark McGwire, remember, got only 25 percent of the vote in his first time on the ballot -- well below the 75 percent threshold required for election -- and that may be a pretty good indication of what Clemens faces.
Arlington, Va.: Remember Rafael Palmeiro's explanation for his dirty test, i.e., that he took some solution that Miguel Tejada had given him? Do you think this story becomes any more credible now?
Dave Sheinin: Yes, I think it does. It doesn't take Palmeiro off the hook, mind you, because professional athletes should know EXACTLY what is going into their bodies, and someone like Palmeiro should not have been injecting himself with some mysterious substance handed to him by a teammate. However, the fact Tejada is now linked to steroids adds some validity to Palmeiro's claim of a tainted supplement.
Lexington Park, Md.: An interesting point was made by Mike and Tony yesterday - the report seems to have gotten the "New York" and "BALCO" guys, but what about all of the other players? There must be big-name guys on the Cubs, Cards, Royals, etc., that are also users. What is the likelihood that we'll see more big names surface in the near future?
Dave Sheinin: There's no question the report is heavy on Bay Area and New York-area players -- because that's what Mitchell had to work with. The assistance Mitchell received from Radomski alone resulted in the inclusion of some 50 names -- more than half the total list. But Mitchell made clear he believes this is merely scratching the surface of the problem, and yes, there are undoubtedly big-name players on other teams who were not named in the report, simply because Mitchell didn't have the evidence.
Washington, DC: If players can still get into the HOF even after they took performance enhancing drugs, then what's the whole point?
Dave Sheinin: It's more complicated than that. Take the example of Bonds. There is a compelling argument that Bonds was a Hall-of-Fame caliber player even before he allegedly began juicing. Some voters have also argued that, since the entire era was tainted and we don't know precisely who was and was not using, all of the players of this era should be treated equally -- without regards to their links to steroids -- when evaluating their Hall of Fame credentials.
Arlington, Va.: So does any player named (I'm looking at you Roger) who denies the claims have any kind of recourse? Can he sue for slander? And who would he sue? Because that's worked out so well for Barry Bonds. But this so explains throwing the bat at Piazza. What a schmo.
Dave Sheinin: Players do have the right to sue. However, the player also has to remember that information might arise in the discovery process that could do even more damage.
Alexandria, VA: Why should I care about this -- and I am an avid sportsman, with season tickets to the Nationals? If I don't care that coal miners get black lung putting food on their family's table (though I do, in a way - government policies to help with medical care), why should I care if an athlete risks his health to do the same thing (many times over, of course, as the incomes are dramatically different - though the principle is identical)? Just because some kid may try it, too? So what? Look at the gains -- salaries in millions -- compared to the losses -- years of life. Seems like a good bargain to me. Or perhaps you've never scrambled to put food on your family's table? Records? What difference does it make, so long as they were created by humans and not machines? Or does taking steroids somehow make these people non-human? This is silly. Concert musicians take un-prescribed anti-anxiety drugs to let them perform (more than half, do some research if you don't know this). Should we put an asterisk next to their Grammies or Oscars?
Dave Sheinin: This is a fascinating ethical question, but I think it comes down to what your definition of "cheating" is and how deeply you care about baseball's records.
Toronto, Ontario: If Bud Selig (or any commissioner of the major North American team sports) was truly serious about the issue of drugs, he'd simply adopt the standards that Olympic athletes have to conform to: notification of whereabouts, year-round testing, and a 2-year ban for a first postive (and missing a test or failing to advise as to your whereabouts is treated the same as a positive), lifetime ban for a second test. To that point, to what extent does MLB work with WADA (information sharing, testing, etc.)?
Amy Shipley: I'm going to try to stop laughing before I stop typing. There is no relationship between MLB and WADA. WADA Chairman Dick Pound and WADA committee leader Gary Wadler have been highly critical of MLB and its policies, and MLB and MLBPA officials are deeply resentful of the criticism and insist they have created a strong program. WADA officials say that is laughable and argue that baseball should do what nearly every other major sports pro league or federation (including FIFA, which lords over international soccer; every federation in the Olympic movement; professional tennis; pro rugby and pro cricket) has done: adopt the international policies accepted by WADA. Baseball and its officials argue that if WADA is so great, how is it that Marion Jones was taking drugs--as we now know--during the Olympics without getting caught? Baseball folks also object to the severity of the WADA bans (two years) and recognize there is no way the players association would support such substantial bans. In short, the two entities are far, far apart.
Dave Sheinin: I'll simply add that, to my knowledge, the majority of those sports federations that have adopted the WADA standards did not have deal with a highly powerful union like the MLBPA.
Washington, D.C.: I thought that when Sen. Mitchell told us to "wipe the slate clean" and go on as if nothing happened was just plain silly. There have to be consequences for illegal activity. Will baseball finally get tough or continue to waffle? As a Yankee fan I am truly disgusted and disillusioned with baseball for the first time in my life.
Dave Sheinin: I must say I was surprised when Mitchell suggested amnesty for the players named in the report, although I do believe the sentiment was genuinely expressed in the interest of moving forward. In any case, Selig has clearly stated he will reserve the right to punish those players on a case-by-case basis. The key questions when considering who might get suspended are: When did the infraction occur, and what was the drug policy at the time? And how solid is the evidence against the player?
Alexandria, Va.: Clemens legacy tainted? Maybe. I don't like Clemens, but his legacy is not tainted in my opinion. Why would it be? If so many of the players he was facing were juiced, why should it diminish his accomplishments?
Dave Sheinin: Remember that in 1996, then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette famously said that Clemens was "in the twilight of his career" -- an assertion that dogged Duquette after Clemens made a stunning mid-career turnaround in the ensuing years. Is it possible the same thing might have happened even if Clemens did not allegedly use steroids? Perhaps. But it seems unlikely to me.
Stunned Yankee Fan: So a former New England senator and a huge Red Sox fan heads up the report and NO Red Sox are named in it? I smell conspiracy....
But seriously, what do you think of calls for Selig to step down? Mitchell made it pretty clear in his statement that the MLB failed to take early action and even perhaps ignored the issue. If this is going to be more inaction I think fans will get angry.
Amy Shipley: Mitchell was interestingly diplomatic and measured in his report, which will help Selig and Co. respond to any calls for their ouster. Mitchell himself did not come close to calling for anyone's head; in fact, he seemed to go out of his way to provide pats on the back for all parties--the owners and players and union--for putting together a drug-testing system that he called a "positive first step." And his harsh criticism of the union for not cooperating, and for allegedly warning players of upcoming drug tests, was somewhat muted when he said the association's advice to players was somewhat "understandable" given the legal circumstances. Mitchell advocated a looking-ahead approach and discouraged, of course, even doling out discipline for the affected players. Anti-doping folks already have criticized that stance. In short, it certainly helps Selig that while Mitchell's criticisms of the past were harsh, he did not propose that anyone be punished.
Annandale, Va.: I admit to a major dislike of Donald Fehr, and that's putting it mildly, but seriously, how can he claim the Union did nothing to impede the Mitchell investigation? I have sportswriter friends whose names you would recognize who tell me his nose should be 20 feet long by now. I'm a retired union worker, strongly pro-union, but the baseball players union gives other, respectable unions everywhere a bad name. For shame.
Amy Shipley: Don Fehr is a to-the-core labor guy who can be given much of the credit for making baseball's union the most formidable in sports. His and the union's action reflect what has been their stance throughout history: they are working in the interests of the players, not in the interests of the game of baseball. If those interests collide, so be it. On the issue of cooperation, Fehr claims that he merely advised players of the possible legal recourse if they spoke to Mitchell's group and advised them to seek the advice of personal attorneys. He noted that some of the accused players had already been implicated in the Balco affair, and risked possible criminal consequences by talking to Mitchell. Fehr further accused Mitchell of conducting an investigation that might have swept up innocent players, given that Mitchell relied on questionable sources (drug dealers) as the sole sources of information in a few cases. Mitchell stood by the information, noting there was corroboration in most cases and in other cases, the dealers faced criminal consequences if they lied because of the presnece of federal investigators. Mitchell went so far as to label some of the lack of cooperation from the union "understandable." But he also noted that the lack of cooperation was deep, going beyond the interviews themselves.He noted the union rejected requests for documents, permitted only one interview (with Fehr, not COO Gene Orza) and refused Mitchell's requests to speak with the director of the lab that handles baseball's drug testing.
Fairfax, Va.: They're going to have to build another wing in Cooperstown. The current building is "Pre-Steroid" and the new one is "Post-Steroid" and visitors are going to have to draw their own conclusions.
Dave Sheinin: The Hall of Fame has consistently taken the everyone-can-draw-their-own-conclusions stance when it comes to documenting this era.
follow up to Alexandria: What is the distinction between "illegal performance enhancing drugs" and other supplements that you could buy at GNC? Surely most professional athletes take some kind of non-food supplement, even if it's just a protein shake.
Amy Shipley: Things you can buy at a GNC are not illegal, but some dietary supplements have been known to be contaminated with steroids--either because they were mixed in containers previously used to make steroid products or because the producers lace them with steroids to enhance their effectiveness. In any case, the government recently has cracked down on the dietary supplement industry, trying to better control such products.
And none of the players implicated in the Mitchell report, to my recollection, was accused of dabbling with tainted supplements. All were purchasing steroids or substances that are blatantly illegal. Most of the substances discussed either were injectable synthetic steroids that have been banned since the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 went into effect, or human growth hormone, which has always been illegal without a prescription.
Dave Sheinin: In recent years, the union has began offering free testing of supplements that players want to use, in order to ensure that they are not tainted.
Glover Park: Am I the only one that thinks the report didn't go far enough? The vast majority of the information included in the Mitchell Report comes from one former NY Mets clubhouse attendant and a trainer who got steroids from him -- it seems like a lot of players are probably breathing easy this morning because they had a different supplier.
Dave Sheinin: There's no question Mitchell's report was limited in its scope, due to forces largely beyond his control. I feel quite certain that he probably came across many additional names in his investigation, but simply lacked the evidence to include them.
New Stadium Sec. 133: Dave and Amy - What do you think about the level of audacity that is represented by openly writing checks for illegal substances. Any drug dealer worth his salt at least uses initials rather than names. And LoDuca's Dodger Stadium stationary bit? Straight out of a movie. Didn't these guys see "Casino"? No records!
Dave Sheinin: It does seem amazing to me that some players would write personal checks to purchase steroids, then have the stuff delivered to their houses. Some of the details in the report are simply priceless -- such as Kevin Brown sending $8,000 cash to Radomski's house, and the package sitting there on Radomski's doorstep, getting soaked in the rain.
Chevy Chase, Md.: If someone used HGH or steroids in 1999 or 2000 (or any time awhile ago), what would be the medical/performance impact of that today? Is the concern that they might still be using today? Or that taking it several years ago still helps today? I understand why a Barry Bonds, where the overall career is important in the record books, is impacted whenever he used, but some of the people who had limited uses a long time ago seem to be different -- not that they are blameless, just different. Thoughts?
Amy Shipley: Great question. Many players said they only used steroids or human growth hormone once or twice, possibly because they had an injury and heard the substances would help them recover. I've never heard anyone suggest that a one-time use of steroids, or use over an extremely short period, could have a performance-enhancing effect over a long period of time. HOWEVER, if you used steroids or HGH for a long period of time--say an entire off-season--even years ago, you could argue that your physiology would have been so strongly affected that the effect would far exceed the use of the substance. How far? Who knows. I would say it's doubtful that even heavy use of such substances seven or eight years ago would have any effect now.
Arlington, Va.: In the list of players published online by The Washington Post, why is Eric Gagne labeled as being a Rangers player? He plays for the Red Sox. Everyone else is up to date. Why the confusion on a player for the World Series victors?
Dave Sheinin: Our apologies.
Arlington, Va.: How can ball players or the their union complain that the Mitchell investigation didn't give them a chance to defend themselves when, in fact, every active player save one refused to cooperate?
Amy Shipley: The union argues that it would have been legally and criminally idiotic for many players to cooperate with Mitchell. It also hinted that Mitchell could have provided in the information to specific players BEFORE any interviews rather than saying he would provide the information DURING the requested interviews that he knew likely would not occur. As best as we can tell, Mitchell doesn't really have a problem if he believed the information to be true and made an attempt to provide the information to the affected parties.
Dave Sheinin: It's clear that the union, and especially Don Fehr, felt they were blindsided by the entire investigation -- starting at the beginning, when Selig announced it without consulting the union about it. It led to an atmosphere of contentiousness from the start that may have informed the union's stance on player interviews.
Harrisburg, Pa.: One of your answers leads directly to my question, as I have not seen this reported: exactly when did various MLB policies become effective, and what exactly was prohibited at the time of each policy?
Amy Shipley: The first policy went into effect in '03. It banned most steroids but not HGH. That was banned in '05. The '03 program was a survey program only. The survey testing was used to determine whether baseball had a "problem" and needed to continue testing. Because the number of players who tested positive in '03--their names were never announced--exceeded 5 percent (it was between 5-7 percent), baseball began a testing program in '04 with pretty gentle penalties that were later toughened. Incidentally, the report revealed that the '04 program was suspended for much of the season to protect players because of the Balco investigation. Hmmm.
Bonds Place in History: Doesn't this report really cement Bonds as the greatest player of his generation, probably all-time? I know he treats sports reporters like dung, but look at all the mediocre players who juiced up only to continue their mediocrity.
Amy Shipley: Interesting comment. Are we now at the point of knowing that so many players juiced, including pitchers, that it turns out the playing field has been level for the past 10 years after all? That's really interesting--and sad.
Dave Sheinin: I don't know that the Mitchell report "cements" this status for Bonds, but if you disregard steroids and simply look at the numbers, there is only one other player in history who is even in the debate as the best player of all-time, and that's Babe Ruth.
Boston: These guys are PERFORMERS whose job it is to keep us entertained enough to stick through the commercials.
That means they have to give us excellent PERFORMANCE. Why should any of us care that these human marketing tools use PERFORMANCE-enhancing drugs to ensure that the marketers get the audiences they pay for?
And, that goes for "collegiate" as well as professional sports marketers.
Amy Shipley: Because they aren't just up on a stage dancing a ballet. They are playing a game that has rules, records and consequences (victories and losses). All of that is rendered meaningless if some play by the rules and some don't.
Dave Sheinin: Folks, that's all we have time for. Thanks again for the great questions.
NYC: Mitchell isn't merely a "Red Sox Fan"- he sits on the Red Sox's Board of Directors.
Dave Sheinin: This is true, and it presented a serious problem with the Mitchell report -- not because there was any reason to think Mitchell would be biased, but simply because the pereception could arise. Mitchell went to great lengths to distance himself from the Red Sox, suspending his own compensation from the team during the investigation and protesting loudly when some news organizations erroneously reported he had an ownership stake in the team.
Omaha, Neb.: Thanks for taking my question. I don't follow sports very closely (or at all). Why has steroid use has become such a mammoth problem in baseball versus any other professional sport? Or is it just that baseball is the first to publicly ferret it out?
Dave Sheinin: A few things are at work here. First, baseball handled the problem poorly from a PR standpoint in the early stages, denying the problem and resisting efforts from Congress to toughen their policy. The NFL was quicker to act. Also, baseball people believe there is a double-standard at work, in which they are held to a higher standard than other leagues -- perhaps because Congressional members are bigger baseball fans, perhaps because baseball holds its records more dearly than other sports, perhaps because the NFL requires a certain suspension of disbelief (270-pound linebackers running a 4.7 40-yard dash?).
Amy Shipley: Gotta run. Thanks everyone for chatting!
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