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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 9, 2009 12:14 PM

A-Rod did it: Now, about that Mitchell Report...

Posted by Geoff Baker

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So, Jose Canseco got me thinking the other day...no, I never thought I'd admit to that in print, either, but things can change. The day the Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drug use in baseball came out just over a year ago, Canseco was incredulous that Alex Rodriguez's name wasn't on it. Fast forward to this past weekend, when we find out that A-Rod was one of 104 players who failed a secret steroids test in 2003.

A-Rod, by the way, just admitted that he did indeed get nabbed in that 2003 testing. Said he used steroids between 2001 and 2003, so that gets the Mariners off-the-hook -- for now, anyway.

I know that Mariners spring training begins this week, but let's face it, this story is not going away. This might be the worst scandal in the history of sports. Jayson Stark of ESPN feels that A-Rod has destroyed the game's history forever. So, I'm not going to make like an MLB PR thingy today and shove all this in a dark corner so we can focus on the merits of Ken Griffey Jr. vs. Garrett Anderson as a Mariners "washed up vet" signee. That will have to wait.

This stuff is more important. And for me, the whole Mitchell Report angle has sort of gone untouched in the initial fallout.

When Sen. George Mitchell's report came out, naming more than 80 past and current players linked to PEDs in some way, there was vast criticism about the lack of evidence put forth. I was then and today remain in favor of the report, but this whole A-Rod thing now brings up some disturbing questions I'd like to see answered.

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First off, how much did MLB Commissioner Bud Selig (seen in the photo alongside Mitchell) know about the 104 names in the so-called secret test of 2003? Did he know which individual players had failed the test? It's now clear that baseball union officials knew the names. So, I'd have to imagine Selig would have some inkling as to who they were.

Some of you may now see where this is going.

If Selig knew that A-Rod and 103 others failed a steroids test in 2003, then how does he go about appointing Mitchell to conduct a thourough "independant" inquiry into steroids two years later? I mean, does Selig, or someone else in MLB, give a little "nudge-nudge'' and "wink-wink" to Mitchell about some of the people named in that secret 2003 steroids testing? Do they encourage him to go out and find his own, corroborating evidence, to nail some of those folks on the list?

Or, worse yet, do MLB officials deliberately steer Mitchell away from any of those 104 names who failed the secret 2003 test? Do they steer him away from A-Rod, but maybe whisper 10 other, lesser names, to Mitchell in the hopes he can round out his report? Or, do they simply steer Mitchell away from any of the names on the list? Answering any of those questions will prove difficult if MLB officials knew the names of the 104 players who failed that 2003 drug test. I mean, how do you allow a supposedly legit investigation to be carried out by Mitchell when you know that his final list is missing names of players caught red-handed while taking steroids? After all, A-Rod's name wasn't on Mitchell's list. Canseco was outraged. You all should be very skeptical.

Or, maybe, as I've suggested, MLB did throw a few names Mitchell's way, other than A-Rod's. We know Mitchell could never legally have used the 2003 test results as "evidence" in his report, but who's to say someone didn't tell Mitchell: "Joe Blow failed a steroids test in 2003, so ask Kirk Radomski or Brian McNamee if they ever had any dealings at all with them.''

Motivations for this? Well, this Mitchell Report was a glorified PR exercise by MLB in order to convince the world it was "cleaning up" drugs in baseball. In order to pull this off, the report was going to need plenty of names. It got a real big one in Roger Clemens, but he was on his last legs as a regular major leaguer and there had already been some quiet, though mounting whispers he'd used performance enhancing drugs. Yeah, his name was still a huge sacrifice for MLB to make. But it had to make at least one. A-Rod, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. He was Phase II of MLB's efforts at image rehabilitation. The guy who was going to pass Barry Bonds on the all-time home run list and show baseball to be a "clean" sport where honest players can thrive.

So, while Clemens was a hard hit for the sport to endure, he did give the Mitchell Report needed credibility. A-Rod, on the other hand, is a PR disaster for the sport.

Again, my question is: did Selig know A-Rod had failed a drug test in 2003 when he appointed Mitchell to head up his inquiry? And if he did, what steps to he take to ensure Mitchell had the full-scope of what was going on? Or, did Selig send Mitchell blindly on his way, hoping he'd never discover the truth that one of the game's biggest stars, present and future, had already been caught in a testing net?

For me, even if Selig, or whoever in MLB knew the 104 names (and we have to assume somebody did, since the union was all over it), kept quiet and watched Mitchell go about his work, this raises a disturbing moral dilemma.

How exactly can Selig and MLB allow Mitchell to tarnish forever the names of 80-plus ballplayers in his report, some with evidence as vague as having written a check to a clubhouse attendant, while knowing all along that A-Rod and 103 others actually failed a steroids test and are getting off scott free? Sure, there was probably duplication between Mitchell's list and those who failed the 2003 test. So, in the end, some players did pay for their PED usage. But not all.

I mean, at the very least, you'd think that -- knowing a double-standard was in-place -- Selig and MLB would instruct Mitchell to limit the scope of his investigation to the year 2004 and beyond. How could anyone, in good faith, allow the names of some players to be trashed on often-flimsy evidence from 2003 and before that, while knowing that 104 players were nabbed with the goods in 2003 but are not going to face reprecussions?

It's a terrible ethical quandry to be sure.

But I can see how such an issue could be easily cast aside by MLB. After all, this wasn't about fairness. It was about getting names on to Mitchell's list. Had he limited his probe to 2004 and beyond, he might have come up with a half-dozen names. For MLB to appear serious about this probe, the scope had to date back to before 2003. And that meant standing up there with a straight face a year ago, hearing Mitchell read off the names on his report and knowing that A-Rod -- as guilty as any other on that list -- was going to get away with something others were not.

The whole thing fails the smell test. And you can bet that MLB's problems are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

Photo Credits: AP

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