Steroids, Baseball, the Mitchell Report and Baseball’s Anti-Trust Exemption

Steroids, Baseball, the Mitchell Report
and Baseball’s Anti-Trust Exemption

Ross Day
From the Mickey Mantle’s Liver Blog

This week, the long-awaited Mitchell Report on the use of performance enhancing drugs will be released to the public. The report is scheduled to be released today at 11 a.m. pacific time by Senator George Mitchell. However, reports are already surfacing that as many as 80 players some of whom are MVPs and past Cy Young award winners will be named. Another report also claims that among the players who will be named is Roger Clemens, the 43 year-old right-hander who seems to have a perpetual 95 mile-an-hour fastball.

Media reports claim that the Mitchell report will attempt to allocate blame equally between players and management. I sincerely doubt it. Mitchell’s investigation is supposed to quantify the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball and develop concrete suggestions to rid baseball of these drugs.

So why then is the Mitchell Report wasting everyone’s time “naming names”? What relevance does naming the 80 or so players who may or may not have used ‘roids or other drugs to suggesting a course of action for Major League Baseball to take to clean up the game? After all, what is done is done. Whether or not David Segui took performance enhancing drugs — while interesting water-cooler gossip — doesn’t help clean up baseball into the future. All it does is satisfy the publics curiosity about who in Baseball was cheating.

It also satisfies Congress’s curiosity.

And satisfying Congress is important to Major League Baseball. Why? Well, it all has to do with Baseball’s anti-trust exemption.

You see, Major League Baseball is the only unregulated monopoly allowed to operate in the United States. Court cases and congressional inaction have allowed Baseball to enjoy this unique status. Baseball’s anti trust exemption is critical to the long-term health of Major League Baseball; the exemption allows Major League Baseball to control the “baseball marketplace” and enjoy profits no one else can realize.

And the only way MLB loses the exemption is if Congress decides to take it away.

Which brings us back to the Mitchell Report. It is no coincidence that immediately after Congress held hearing on the use of performance-enhancing drugs that MLB decided to conduct its own investigation into the use of such drugs.

It is also no coincidence that MLB chose former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to lead the investigation. Senator Mitchell is still widely respected on Capitol Hill by members of both political parties. Senator Mitchell is “one of them”, and his report will go a long ways towards alleviating pressures from Congress on MLB to clean up its act.

Keep in mind, Senator Mitchell is also an executive with the Boston Red Sox. If his report were to call out MLB and team management groups, Mitchell would ostensibly be “biting the hand that feeds him,” so to speak.

So how does Mitchell go about giving Congress the impression that MLB is cleaning up its act without revealing the systemic problems with MLB, and thereby angering his cohorts?

Names. Plenty of names.

Even better. Names of players who are no longer active players.

I fully expect Mitchell’s Report, and the subsequent media coverage, to focus on the players named in the report, rather than what the report should be focusing on – how baseball allowed steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to take over baseball for more than a decade, and how to stop that from ever occurring again.

But by naming names, the Mitchell Report will give Congress, the media, and the public the false impression that baseball has addressed the problem and is cleaning up its act. When, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I want to know how the players got the steroids, how MLB allowed the “steroid-era” to occur, and how MLB and team management turned a blind-eye to what was obviously occurring in the clubhouse.

Instead, for the next several months – or perhaps years – we will debate whether or not the players named in the Mitchell Report did or did not use steroids, amphetamines, human-growth hormones, the “clear”, the “cream”, flax seed oil, or whatever drug may enhance on-the-field performance. It will turn into the classic “he-said, he-said”, without the real problem ever being solved.

Politically, you have to hand it to Selig. When the dust settles, Selig will have protected the anti-trust exemption and deflected criticism away from MLB and onto individual players.

As for the health of the sport? We’ll just have to wait and see.