|George Mitchell's 21-month steroid investigation revealed that every major league team fielded players who cheated. (MARIO TAMA/Getty Images)|
A long, star-studded drug roster
Enhancement use tainted all teams, sweeping report says
NEW YORK - Scores of purported drug cheats, including former Red Sox stars Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn, subverted the integrity of the national pastime for nearly 20 years while major league owners and union bosses all but looked the other way, according to a landmark report released yesterday on the scourge of performance-enhancing substances in baseball.
Citing 88 current or former players with links to illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the report documents the baseball establishment's failure to curb the proliferation of steroids and human growth hormone while the game's popularity and profits boomed.
Fourteen of the players previously were members of the Red Sox, though the report cites evidence that some of them, including Clemens and Vaughn, became involved with performance-enhancing drugs before or after their careers in Boston.
Some of the most dominant figures of baseball's steroids era, including seven who won Most Valuable Player awards, two Cy Young Award winners, and 31 All-Stars, were linked in the report to performance-enhancing substances between 1998 and 2005. Notable among the marquee players who had not previously been linked to steroids were Eric Gagné, Miguel Tejada, and Andy Pettitte.
Former senator George J. Mitchell, who authored the report after leading a 21-month investigation into the scandal, said steroid abuse became so rampant after former slugger Jose Canseco first came under suspicion in 1988 that every major league team has fielded players who cheated.
"Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades - commissioners, club officials, the players' association, the players - shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era," Mitchell said. "There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread."
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who commissioned the report, called it "a call to action."
"And I will act," Selig said, vowing to unilaterally implement as many of Mitchell's recommendations to rid the game of steroids as he can. Selig said he would negotiate with the players' union to enact policies that require collective bargaining.
Mitchell's recommendations include establishing a department of investigations, making the drug-testing program independent of Major League Baseball, and increasing cooperation between baseball executives and law enforcement. Selig praised baseball's current drug-testing policies, but said he would embrace Mitchell's recommendations.
The report identified a number of stars who previously had been cited by baseball officials, prosecutors, or published reports as suspected steroid users, including home run king Barry Bonds and prolific sluggers such as Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Juan Gonzalez, and Jason Giambi.
The former Red Sox players cited in the report - in addition to Clemens, Vaughn, Gagné and Canseco - included Brendan Donnelly, Jeremy Giambi, Mike Lansing, Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton, Paxton Crawford, and Manny Alexander. The ones who previously had been linked to steroids in published reports are Vaughn, Canseco, Giambi, Crawford, and Alexander.
"It is imperative that we continue to educate our players on the dangers and unfairness of performance-enhancing drugs and to do everything we can to eliminate them entirely from the game of baseball," the Red Sox said in a statement.
Mitchell, lacking subpoena power and spurned in his requests for information by all but two of the 750 active major leaguers, relied heavily on published reports and interviews with former players and non-uniformed team employees for the bulk of his evidence until federal authorities investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative near San Francisco gave him his big break.
In April, prosecutors in the BALCO case reached an agreement with Kirk J. Radomski, a former clubhouse attendant for the New York Mets, in which Radomski would cooperate with them and Mitchell in exchange for a lenient sentence after he pleaded guilty to distributing performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of major leaguers and money laundering.
Thanks to four interviews with Radomski as well as copies of bank, telephone records, and other documents buttressing Radomski's accounts, Mitchell identified more than a dozen players who had not previously been cited as users and developed leads on others.
Radomski, for example, had ties to Brian McNamee, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Yankees, who told Mitchell that on six occasions between 1998 and 2001 he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone and at least twice in 2002 injected Pettitte with human growth hormone.
A lawyer for Clemens said the seven-time Cy Young Award winner denied the allegations and believed he was "being slandered" by a "troubled man," referring to McNamee.
The report could be devastating for Clemens, who has weighed pitching another season and has long been considered a cinch to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Just last year, McGwire, who ranks eighth all-time in home runs with 583, fell far short of gaining entry to Cooperstown amid suspicion over his steroid use.
Mitchell said he invited every player named in the report to speak with him and, though some retired players and minor leaguers accepted the offer, every current major leaguer but Jason Giambi and, according to the Associated Press, Frank Thomas refused.
Union chief Donald Fehr made "no apologies" for advising major leaguers to snub Mitchell's interview requests, suggesting many players may have been unfairly tainted by the report.
"Their reputations have been adversely affected, probably forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been," Fehr said.
Mitchell, a former federal judge and prosecutor, said he developed "sufficient evidence" to cite every player in the report. But he left no doubt that he identified only a fraction of the players who have cheated because of the constraints on his investigation.
"I acknowledge, and even emphasize, the obvious: There is much about performance-enhancing substances in baseball that I did not learn," he said. "There have been other suppliers and other users, past and present."
Mitchell said the drug use he exposed occurred two to nine years ago, and he urged Selig to forgo punishing the players and focus instead on stepping up baseball's fight against performance-enhancing substances.
Selig has no authority to discipline players who have retired from the game. Nor have prosecutors expressed any interest in pressing charges against players solely for using steroids or human growth hormone. The elite athletes who have been prosecuted, including Bonds and track star Marion Jones, have been charged with other offenses, such as perjury.
Selig, however, said he will consider taking disciplinary action against current players named in the report. They include Tejada, Gagné, Pettitte, Jose Guillen, Ron Villone, Stanton, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Scott Schoeneweis.
Several of the players recently signed multimillion-dollar contracts.
Mitchell, who is on leave as a director of the Red Sox, also responded to criticism that he may have favored the team or league owners in his report.
"Judge me by my work," he said. "You will not find any evidence of bias or special treatment of the Red Sox or anyone else."
Describing the dangers of steroid abuse, Mitchell's report cited a public admission in 1998 by former Sox minor leaguer Mike Spinelli that he had used steroids.
"I just thank God I was able to get out of this . . . before it killed me," the report quotes Spinelli as saying.
Mitchell said the prevalence of steroid abuse by baseball stars has contributed to "hundreds of thousands" of youths risking their health by using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
"Every American, not just baseball fans, should be shocked into action by that disturbing truth," Mitchell said.
Congress reacted swiftly to Mitchell's report, renewing its push for baseball to intensify its crackdown on performance-enhancing substances, particularly human growth hormone, which largely has supplanted anabolic steroids as the drug of choice among major leaguers because a reliable urine test has not been developed to detect it.
"Our children's heroes cheated the game," House majority leader Nancy Pelosi said.
The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee called on Mitchell, Selig, and Fehr to appear at a hearing Tuesday.
"The Mitchell report is sobering," the committee's chairman, Henry A. Waxman, and ranking minority member, Tom Davis, said in a statement. "It shows that everyone involved in Major League Baseball bears some responsibility for this scandal."
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.