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The Mitchell Press Conference

Gotta say, it was hard not to be impressed by George Mitchell during his “detailed statement” that unveiled his report on drug use in baseball. Not just because he refused to name-drop (the report does that), but because it seems his focus is on what baseball can do going forward to eliminate steroid and HGH use from the game, and not focusing so much on what happened in the past.

Obviously, the new names in the report will get the biggest play in the media, but in all reality, that should be a sidebar. For the umpteenth time, no player who dons a uniform should be above some sort of suspicion, even if it’s minute. And it’s not a baseball thing. It’s a professional sports thing.

What was so impressive about Mitchell was that his focus was on the future. It gives baseball a chance to emerge from this storm and have some sunny, suspicion-free days ahead. Not anytime immediately, because it could take a generation to change a cultural ill. That said, perhaps baseball, and this report, will someday be remembered as the first step in making sports clean again.

Major obstacles stand in the way, obviously, not the least of which is how the Players Association reacts. Mitchell urged all of baseball to come together “in a well-planned, well-executed, and sustained effort to bring the era of steroids and human growth hormone to an end and to prevent its recurrence …” and offered some recommendations. Of course, the MLBPA rarely comes together with anybody — if they had, this embarrassment may have been avoided — and my guess is that MLBPA head Donald Fehr’s press conference will set the tone for adversarial banter. That only two players — Jason Giambi and Frank Thomas — were said to have cooperated voluntarily doesn’t bode well, either. Face it, the players are like a class full of students who have been caught cheating and think they can get away with it, no matter what it might mean to future students.

One part of the report that leaves something to be desired, however: It seems, at least through a real quick skimming, that the commissioner’s office didn’t receive a whole lot of blame, but that the rest of baseball did. Then again, the blame game only serves to keep the game stuck in its current mud. To find firm footing again, the focus has to stay on the future. Hopefully, all sides are humbled enough that they realize the same thing.

More later.

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The Mitchell Report

OK, now we know. Baseball is delivering its early Christmas present tomorrow, with the announcement of George Mitchell’s 20-month investigation into drug use in baseball.

Now, while this report promises to be titillating, I can’t help but question what good it will do for baseball in the long run. If there’s a single name mentioned that surprises anybody, then you simply haven’t been paying attention all these years. And if it slows down the attempt by players to gain an edge through any means possible, I’d be shocked. The only thing that will really affect change will be cooperation between the owners and the Players Association to bring in more comprehensive drug testing, and to start imparting a message that performance-enhancers won’t be tolerated. Personally, I think that a clause in every players’ contract that is similar to the one for gambling _ namely, that participation brings a ban for life _ would be a wonderful step, but I’m sooner expecting to see Dorothy fall out of the sky.

As for the investigation itself, it’s likely to have a lot of holes. Howard Bryant, who once upon a time covered the A’s for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote an excellent comprehensive piece for ESPN.com on the details of the investigation, and let’s just say there is much that’s left to be desired. The gist I get from it is that baseball is looking for a scapegoat, and if that’s the case, then they missed the boat as badly as the Warren Commission.

Meantime, the real issue is whether this will have any impact on fans going out to the ballpark. Baseball generated a record $6 billion in revenue last season, even as new players were linked to controversies, and Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record brought with it endless discussion about the impact of steroids. So it sure doesn’t seem like fans give a mularkey about the fact that players are using this stuff.

Until they do, baseball really has no reason to police itself. This report was intended to appease Congress, and only time will tell if it does. It is, no matter how baseball spins it, not an attempt to rid the drug culture from the game. I’m afraid that might be with us to stay.