Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 5

This is Part 5 in ShysterBall's micro-breakdown of the Mitchell Report. For Part 1, go here, for Part 2, go here, for Part 3, go here, and for Part 4, go here.

Radomski, McNamee, Bigbie, and Allen. Sounds more like a law firm than the wellspring of player-specific steroid data, but they're all we have to go on, so let's get going.

But before we get to the named players, this disclaimer from Senator Mitchell, on pages 148-49:

From the outset, my objective in this investigation has been “to gather facts,” to prepare a report that is thorough, accurate, and fair, and to “provide those whose reputations have been, or might be, called into question by these allegations a fair opportunity to be heard.” Each player mentioned in this report, and others not mentioned, was provided that fair opportunity; each was invited to meet with me, with his personal lawyer and a lawyer from the Players Association if he so chose, so that I could provide him with information about the allegations against him and give him the opportunity to respond. Most players declined to meet with me.

Much of the public response to the report in the past couple of days has taken the form of "hey, the named players had a chance to be heard, so screw them if they now complain about the strength and validity of the evidence against them." And on some level I understand and sympathize with that.

But it's important to remember that Mitchell was acting on marching orders that were nebulous at best. He had a relationship with law enforcement that was altogether unclear, but undeniably real. He had Congress standing behind him cradling a Louisville Slugger, waiting to swing it if they didn't like what they saw and heard. As a lawyer, I would never allow my client to talk under such uncertain circumstances. People I know have gone to jail based on the odd conversational tangents that can occur during such interviews. The common response of "well, he'd talk if he didn't have something to hide" is a nonstarter as far as I'm concerned, concocted by people who don't understand what the Fifth Amendment and, more broadly speaking, the concept of self-incrimination is all about.

My point? While the evidence cited seems fairly conclusive in most of these cases, maybe, just maybe, Roger Clemens and the others named here have legitimate rejoinders to the specific charges leveled against them. Maybe they declined to speak, however, because of some different, darker secret. Maybe they, like many people, objected to the setup and ground rules of the Mitchell panel itself on general principle. We simply don't know, and because we don't know, it's important that we not oversell what Mitchell is reporting. These are, for the most part, allegations, not findings in any definitive sense. Most of what is reported here would not be enough to get an indictment let alone a conviction in some hypothetical legal proceeding, so we should be careful about how we characterize things.

With that out of the way, what were these sick, twisted, dirty cheaters up to?

Lenny Dykstra, p. 148-150:

A common thread among the players named in the report is their claim that they took PEDs in an effort to rebound from some injury. I find it interesting, therefore, that Dykstra's steroid use, cited as beginning with the 1989 season, coincided with a period in which he became less and less durable. Indeed, Dykstra only played in more than 100 games in three out of the eight seasons of his post-1988 career. There's probably a lesson in there, kids.

Jack Cust, p. 159:

Between him and Jeremy Giambi, I think we have conclusive evidence that steroids can considerably hinder one's base running abilities, particularly the running (and sliding) that is supposed to occur between third and home.

Josias Manzanillo, p. 161:

I have no recollection of this player whatsoever. Apparently Mitchell didn't think much about him either, because while he notes over and over how little cooperation he got from players, he pretty much gave Manzanillo the Heisman:

In order to provide Manzanillo with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me. His lawyer proposed arranging an interview, but we were unable to do so before the completion of the investigation.
Not that I would have held up the process for someone as random as Manzanillo either. His lawyer, however, provided a proffer of his testimony. Best fact: Radomski's nickname was "Murdock." God, I hope he was named after this Murdock. That would be cool.

Todd Hundley, p. 163:

Hundley is the odd steroid case that actually conforms to the stereotypes. In the year he allegedly started taking PEDs -- 1996 -- Hundley, unlike the vast majority of the people named in the report, saw the sort of spectacular rise in power numbers that the public assumes is always the case ("Radomski told Hundley that if he used steroids, he would hit 40 home runs. Hundley hit 41 home runs in 1996"). At the same time, he's a player who was constantly out of the lineup with injuries over his career, indicating either that (a) the primary motive of steroid users was to get and stay healthy; (b) that one of the effects of steroids is alarming fragility; or both.

Hal Morris, p. 164:

Apparently Morris was using steroids as a member of the Reds in 1999. That year Morris had a total of 9 extra-base hits -- all doubles -- in something like 112 plate appearances. Hal, Radomski may have ripped you off.

Rondell White, p. 165-66:

White told Radomski that he needed steroids to "stay on the field." Hmm, given all of his time on the DL, White may have been ripped off too. More seriously speaking, there is definitely a chicken-egg thing going on with steroids. Were players like White, Hundley, and Dykstra drawn to PEDs because they were injured so much, or did steroids make them fragile? I suppose those aren't mutually-exclusive, so it's probably a little of both.

Roger Clemens, p. 167-175:

I scoffed all summer as a certain brand of idiot proclaimed that, to them, Hank Aaron would always be the Home Run King no matter what Barry Bonds did. Now I sit here happy that people will start calling Greg Maddux -- my favorite player of all time -- the best pitcher of the past twenty years. I know it's inconsistent, but subjectivity can be a bitch like that.

In the winter of 1996-97, I had a conversation with my friend Ethan Stock about where Roger Clemens fit into the grand scheme of things. At that time in my life I pretty much judged pitchers by wins and ERA. My view: that a pitcher who had just come off of a four year stretch winning 11, 9, 10, and 10 games while posting ERAs in the mid-4s was on the way out of the league. I thought he was a borderline-at-best Hall of Fame candidate because, hell, everyone knows that pitchers are supposed to win 300 games in order to have a shot, and Roger sitting there with 192 wins would be lucky to end up with 200.

Ethan disagreed pretty adamantly, though I can't for the life of me remember the specifics of his argument. Doesn't matter though, because he was right. Even if Clemens hadn't thrown another pitch after 1996, he probably deserved to be in the Hall of Fame on the power of a seven year period of dominance, the single game strikeout record, and carrying some less-than-stellar Red Sox teams farther than they had any business going. Ethan was also right to believe that Clemens wasn't done, though if he based that on the fact that Rocket's peripherals were still really strong despite the bad records, he didn't let on.

Of course now we know Clemens had some chemical help rebounding from his mid-career lull. We don't know, however, how much help he really got. Clemens certainly wouldn't have fallen off the planet and not pitched again if he hadn't met McNamee, so its exceedingly safe to assume that his win total would have been well into the 200s or higher even if he had become someone's third starter and banged around aimlessly for a few more years. That's a Hall of Fame career, even if my 23 year-old self didn't fully realize it at the time.

But of course he did use and, like Barry Bonds, we're left to wonder why. The Larry Bigbies of the world make sense, as they obviously thought -- probably correctly -- that PEDs were the difference between being set for life and having to sell insurance one day. Bonds and Clemens were already world class, so their decisions baffle us. Outrage us, even, in ways that no other players' PED use does. I mean, I know the Mitchell Report is only a couple of days old, but it's a safe bet no one plans on writing a scathing editorial about David Segui in the near future.

I've had casual conversations with people who chalk the outrage up to the records Bonds and Clemens set, as if they somehow delegitimize the game in ways that 50 other steroid users' combined efforts do not. I'm not so sure this is the case. Sure, the records are easy to latch onto, but I think there's something a little more primal at work. I think people are really reacting to some subconscious egalitarian impulse that is offended when those who already have so much strive for more. Just as Fred homo erectus banged bones on rocks when he saw the group's alpha male mate with yet another fetching young hominid Fred couldn't have, we start to bristle when we see those who already dominate the sport doing something to take that domination to yet another level. They already have it all, we complain, how can they possibly want more?

As I type this, there are already dozens of editorials floating around obsessing over Clemens legacy and Hall of Fame chances, and there will no doubt be scores more before pitchers and catchers report. My view? We are probably right to put down that glass of "Clemens is the best pitcher ever" Kool -Aid we've been drinking for the past decade or so. We are probably wrong, though, to say that keeps him out of Cooperstown. That is, unless we're interested in flunking him on a morality test the likes of which voters have never applied before. Well, maybe McGwire, but it's an open question as to whether he would have been in the Cooperstown conversation without steroids. Not so with Roger.

The dust won't be settled on Clemens for a long time. I, and I imagine Barry Bonds, will be watching closely to see if any double standards are put in play.

Chuck Knoblauch, p. 177:

Keith Olberman is avenged. Or maybe his mother. Actually, I wonder if Knoblauch's steroid use isn't directly attributable to his battle with the yips. A man can slug around .400 and hit fewer than 20 homers a year if he's a fundamentally sound middle infielder. He can't do that and make a living as a full-time DH, which is where Knoblauch's throwing issues sent him. The Mitchell Report has Knoblauch beginning to take steroids in 2001. That's the year he ceased being a second baseman. Knoblauch knew he needed to hit homers to justify the leftward slide down the defensive spectrum, and it seems that's what he set out to do.

David Justice, p. 181:

We interviewed David Justice before we had knowledge of the Radomski and McNamee allegations. Justice denied using performance enhancing substances himself, but he provided the names of many players who, he suspected, had used steroids.
It's worth noting that Mitchell doesn't say which players Justice threw under the bus. I presume this means that Mitchell couldn't corroborate any of Justice's suspicions. I wonder if Justice's gum flapping was inspired by a desire to appear to be one of the few straight-shooters in all of this. If so, he failed pretty miserably, and gets tagged by Mitchell as an ineffective rat in the process. This sort of thing, by the way, is exactly why I wouldn't let a client of mine speak with Mitchell.

Adam Piatt, p. 199:

After Radomski’s guilty plea was publicly announced, Piatt’s lawyer contacted us. We later interviewed Piatt, who voluntarily admitted his use of performance enhancing substances. He accepted full responsibility for his actions and said that he had learned an important life lesson as a result. Piatt should be commended for his candor, for his willingness to admit that he made a mistake, and for accepting responsibility for his actions.

This struck me as odd. For some 400 pages, Mitchell tries very hard to keep things as cool as possible, wavering from the bloodless tone of a man merely providing information only when exhorting us to think of the children in the summary and recommendation section. Here, however, he sounds like a man providing absolution. There were others in the report who cooperated and were reported as being regretful about their steroid use. They didn't get the gold star that Piatt did. I wonder why.

Miguel Tejada, p. 201-04:

More B-12 weirdness. I'm still not sure that anyone knows what, exactly, was going on with all of that. Unlike all of the other players in this section, Radomski is almost a secondary figure here. The bulk of the information on Tejada, such as it is, comes from Mr. Candor, Adam Piatt. This is also interesting:

In December 2005, Texas Rangers owner Thomas O. Hicks and general manager Jon Daniels engaged in an email exchange about possible trade discussions. In one email, Daniels stated that he had “some steroids concerns with Tejada,” and cited Tejada’s decreased productivity over the second half of the 2005 season.

This is one of the few instances where such team brass emails are referenced here (there are a few more below dealing with former Dodgers) and it's offered with very little context. Did Mitchell propound a document request to all teams, seeking emails with the word "steroids" in them? Did he circulate the names he had and ask for any deliberative information on them? How, exactly, did this email come out? Given how many of their players were involved, why aren't there any from the Mets and Yankees?

Paul Lo Duca, p. 208-211:

On July 30, 2004, the Dodgers traded Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins. Then-Dodgers' GM Paul Depodesta was excoriated over the move by the local press, most notably by L.A. Times writer Bill Plaschke. Plaschke hadn't liked Depodesta from the moment he was hired, criticizing him as some sort of out-of-touch computer geek based on his modest fame as a central figure in Moneyball. After the Lo Duca trade, Plaschke made it his mission to ride Depodesta out of town on a rail, and on that rail he was ridden after the 2005 season. Yesterday, Plachke offered a startling (for him) mea culpa, saying that because Lo Duca wound up on the steroid list, "[t]he sour history of DePodesta’s reign also may have to be somewhat rewritten."

In this we see the power of the Mitchell Report. Plaschke's criticism of the Lo Duca trade has always been stupid, because it was an awesome trade for the Dodgers. They gave up a totally overrated catcher, for whom they had a great replacement, for Brad Penny, the guy who has proven to be their ace starting pitcher. You make that trade 100 out of 100 times and Depodesta should have been praised for it, not slammed.

The Dodgers have played three-and-a-half seasons of baseball, and in every one of those games they've been better off for having made that trade than if they had not. Yet it is only now -- once Lo Duca's name shows up in a thinly-sourced report of steroid use -- that Plaschke can bring himself to reevaluate the trade. And this is a writer who yells at statheads for failing to get their noses out of books and watch some real baseball for a change.

By the way, Lo Duca, Kevin Brown, and Eric Gagne are all Dodgers whose steroid use team brass openly discussed in an October 2003 team meeting. The comments all treat the drug use in and of itself as secondary, focusing instead on what that use means for performance. They don't care that Lo Duca was using, only that he may have stopped and is hitting fewer line drives. They likewise care about Brown and Gagne's use only insofar as it affected their immediate value as players, making comments that indicated their concern was centered on the idea that too much juice could land them on the DL as opposed to steroids, you know, being illegal, against the rules, and wrong. The Red Sox made comments like this as well regarding Gagne and others.

Fernando Vina, p. 213:

Some people are wondering why Vina, a Baseball Tonight analyst for ESPN, was missing from the wall-to-wall coverage on Thursday. Is this early evidence of the blackballing power of the Mitchell Report, or merely a result of crappy winter weather in New England on Thursday? Hard to say, but seeing as though Mike Golic recently admitted steroid use in terms that were very much like those ballplayers named by Mitchell (i.e. coming back from an injury, using it for a bit, etc.), it would be a bit odd for Vina to be exiled over this while Golic remains the face of the franchise, no?

And thus endeth the name-naming portion of our show. There were obviously many more players listed than the ones I mentioned above, but (a) these are the bigger names; and (b) quite frankly, the summaries are all the same: Randomski mentioned player X used steroids or HGH in 2001. We have checks from player X to Radomski. Player X declined our request for an interview, etc. ad nauseum.

There are going to be a lot of sweeping conclusions about steroids in baseball based on the Mitchell Report and, more specifically, the section I just reviewed. It will likely keep Clemens out of the Hall of Fame for a time, and may cause many of the named players serious trouble when they try to find jobs in and around baseball once their playing days are over.

But as I mentioned before, we need to be wary of overreacting here. While there is considerable indicia of reliability for most of the information supplied here, we have to remember that almost all of it comes from one guy -- Kirk Randomski -- and is thus by definition thin. At the same time, the sheer repetition of the years 2000-2001 makes one realize that even of Randomski is beyond reproach, we are really only getting a slice of things here, both regarding the players who are named, as well as the countless others who almost certainly had different dealers. Because of this, when we punish those who are named, we are necessarily making examples out of them rather than thoroughly and conclusively addressing and punishing past sins.

I may be in the minority in thinking this, but I do not believe that the purpose of the Mitchell Report was to provide a vehicle for a public shaming. Accordingly, if I were in Selig's shoes, I would consider a blanket amnesty from all punishment for those named in the report in an effort to encourage greater dialogue going forward. Let's get beyond the naming of names and, instead, let's try to constructively address the problem of PEDs themselves.

Next up: online pharmacies, recommendations, and conclusions. Yes, my friends, the end is near.

And now the end is posted. For Part 6 -- the last installment of this undertaking -- can be read here.

12 comments:

rone said...

Couldn't the players, at the very least, have shown up to talk to Mitchell with their lawyer and asked him what exactly they could expect if they talked, rather than simply telling Mitchell to talk to the hand?

Ironcheffie said...

I'm not saying I came up with the General Pardon idea, but I've been spouting off on the idea ever since that Battlestar Galactica Episode where Roslin pardoned all the cylon collaborators.

Shyster said...

rone --

Given his marching orders, I don't know that Mitchell could really say anything that would have given them comfort enough to talk. Based on the intro in the report, he probably just says "you can expect that if you don't lie to me you won't be prosecuted for making false statements." Not much comfort.

ironcheffie --

I like the idea of a pardon. Couple of issues, though, is that it obviously wouldn't bind the writers, who could still decide that no one is going to the hall of fame. Not that that should bother us. We've already spilled too much ink on the hall recently. That really only effects, what, three or four guys?

Also, Selig certainly couldn't pardon anyone from criminal prosecution, and a lot of what Mitchell would be hearing if everyone talked would be about how they bought drugs from some dude, which is illegal.

ralphdibny said...

Shyster--

1. Thanks for the fisking! (Wow, that sounds dirty.)

2. As a fellow Braves fan, my first thoughts were also Maddux-related schadenfreude.

3. Curious as to your thoughts about Kent Mercker, esp. concidering his health issues. Does this taint the only no-hitter I've ever seen? Did Mitchell just rape my childhood?

Shyster said...

ralph --

I did find it odd that a guy with Mercker's health history -- that cerebral hemorrhage had to be scary -- was willing to play with PEDs. Maybe it would be riskier with heart problems or something. I have no idea.

Hard to say what it means for his 1.5 no hitters. They were well before the allegations here, but as I said in the piece, this is almost all Radomski-driven, and likely only provides a snapshot.

As a guy who has watched the Braves so much over the years, I will say I was surprised not to see Chipper on there. Not that his absence from the report means he *didn*t do PEDs. He may just have had a more careful dealer than Radomski . . .

bigcatasroma said...

I hate Bill Plascke . . .

Seriously, he is the exact columnist whose laziness is fed by this report, a list of 86 names that allow them to get on their moral soap box . . .

What I want to know is, there are those out there claiming there IS a difference b/w Bonds and Clemens??? How so?? Because Bonds was indicted because of his relationship w/ BALCO?? In baseballing/steroid-taking or HGH-taking terms, there is no difference. So it will be interesting in the coming months and years how they are treated.

Clemens, that phony, has been loved by the media for making their job easier - he superficially rubs Babe Ruth's head, says the right things, and newspapermen get sound bites. On the other hand, Bond is a surly bear. So, while the derivative of this is racial undertones as Bonds claims, the reality is that it has been festered because - to me - Bonds comes off as a human, creating a perception of an a**hole, while Clemens jokes with the media and is superficial. To the newspaper men, that makes him a hardworker and good ball player, but to me that makes him a phony, superficial jerk - and therefore an even bigger a**hole than Bonds . . .

bigcatasroma said...

P.S.

Re: Paul Lo Duca's Overratedness

How do steroids account for a player's "grit" and "clubhouse presence?" Can that be quantified???

Anonymous said...

Bigcat,

You have hit the nail square on the head. While too many like playing the race card too often, I think the main reason Bonds gets hammered while Clemens and others get passes is strictly due to their relationship with the press. Bonds and Sheffield are sometimes combative or antagonistic and are portrayed as a-holes. Clemens and others play nice with the reporters and everyone looks the other way.

mo_positive said...

I think the motivation for Clemens to use steroids is pretty clear, his ability had declined and he wanted to keep playing like the years of his prime (or he just wanted to be paid like that). I didn't look at the stats but I don't think Bonds was on the slide when his astounding leap of ability took place. Maybe he wanted to be remembered as the greatest but is it reasonable to think that he believed he could have achieved what he did even on the juice? I wonder if he saw a bunch of 'obvious juicers' (McGwire, Sosa) starting to outshine his accomplishments and decided the only way to protect his legacy was to join in the cheating. He certainly didn't have any friends in the media to help cement his place in the game so he might have taken the responsibility on his own shoulders.

I'm not defending Bonds. If this was how it went down, it's still a totally ego-driven and cowardly way to deal with the situation.

marc in Tallahassee said...

Didn't Randomski have to speak truthfully to Mitchell as part of his plea deal? If so, that adds a lot more credence to his testimony.

At the end there you mentioned that most of the evidence in this section comes from only one guy. That's true. The readers, however, might not have the whole story if they leave thinking this one guy didn't have a strong incentive to tell the truth.

On that count, would you, or any other lawyer representing a non-famous drug supplier, advise this one guy to lie under such conditions? Does Randomski have any bargaining power at all at this point? What could he gain by lying?

Shyster said...

Marc -- I don't mean to suggest that I think Radomski is lying. In fact, in Part 6 I say that there is considerable of indicia of reliability to his testimony precisely because he has great incentive to be truthful and no apparent incentive to lie.

I would never advise a client to lie, but for the sake of argument here, let's pretend I would in certain circumstances. This would not be one, because there is a huge upside for Radomski to come really clean here. Specifically, there is no other obvious whistle-blower. While Radomski doesn't exactly fit that profile (he got caught), he could come out of this sorta looking like one, get a book deal, etc.

Overall, though, none of that changes the fact that this is thin sourcing, and it would be even if the witness was someone other than Radomski. One source is, by definition, one source, and anything could come to light later that could compromise him.

Mike said...

Regarding Chuck Knoblauch, if he started taking PEDs in 2001 to improve his offense (and ultimately prolong his career), then we can point to him as an example illustrating steroids don't work for all. He had his worst year in 2001, not just in the field, but at bat, showing a substantial drop in power from the previous seasons. He was out of the game within a year, and it wasn't just the fielding. Offensively, he was a zero. It was a pretty dramatic drop off for a once elite player. It makes me wonder if he was taking steroids throughout his career, but we only learned of his steroid use in 2001 because he had a new supplier.