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Baseball will long be haunted by steroid era

BaseballMajor League BaseballElectionsReferendaMark McGwire

Not to get all biblical on you, but if the just-released Mitchell Report is any indication, the truth will not necessarily set you free.

The 409-page review of baseball's performance-enhancement scandal has, in fact, made us all prisoners of the steroid era. Commissioner Bud Selig spent millions of Major League Baseball dollars to get closure on the steroid issue and instead opened a can of worms that will be crawling through this tainted sport for decades.

Selig can talk all he wants about "moving forward," but it was obvious from the day he hired former Sen. George Mitchell to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the steroid scandal that the eventual result would be to remind us all of what we already knew -- or strongly suspected.

There are big names and juicy details in the report and a few common sense recommendations that baseball likely will adopt, but the notion that this will help put the steroid era behind us evaporated as soon as Selig said during his news conference yesterday that he likely will ignore Mitchell's recommendation that no further disciplinary action be taken against the players named in the report.

So, in the interest of moving forward, Selig is going to review the evidence against the players named in the report and mete out discipline on a "case-by-case basis." That guarantees the game will continue to wallow in this mess for an indeterminate period, all for the purpose of "moving forward" by keeping alive the tawdry memory of what dozens of players did several years ago.

Think about it. We're also doomed to reflect on yesterday's revelations every year at this time for the foreseeable future, because December is the month when the Hall of Fame ballot is mailed out to voters.

This year's ballot, for instance, includes the names of three players -- Mark McGwire, David Justice and Chuck Knoblauch -- who were mentioned prominently in the Mitchell Report. Each ballot sparks legitimate debate over the qualifications of the players named, so in all likelihood we'll be debating the steroid era regularly for many years to come.

That's not all bad, of course. Selig made the point yesterday that the report would serve as a lesson for future generations of major league players and officials, who probably will have to cope with new threats to the integrity of the sport. It's just hard to imagine that anyone really needed another such lesson after years of startling revelations from BALCO and the other federal steroid investigations.

I don't know about you, but I was pretty much maxed out on anabolic angst while Selig was still fretting over what to do about it. Hiring Mitchell might have seemed like the thing to do at the time, but the report was doomed from the beginning to be a compilation of evidence gathered largely from federal investigations going on in San Francisco and Albany, N.Y.

Mitchell ended up depending heavily on the kindness of strangers, getting surprising cooperation from the government he served with such distinction in the Senate. He was assisted by federal investigators in obtaining testimony from former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski and personal trainer Brian McNamee, which became the foundation for much of his report. (If you need proof: Radomski was mentioned 577 times in the report and McNamee 156 times.)

The release of the report made for good theater. I'll give Mitchell that. The suspense built for several weeks after he promised to release his findings by the end of the year, and the news conference triple-header was a nice touch, but in his sincere attempt to perform this public exorcism, he might have saddled baseball with serious unintended consequences.

First and foremost, he and Selig really ticked off the Major League Baseball Players Association, which had asked for -- and been denied -- an advance copy of the report so union officials could check for errors and be prepared to answer questions at News Conference No. 3 last night.

Union chief Donald Fehr didn't say a lot, but he called the decision to give his staff only one hour's advance notice of the report "extremely unusual" and "unfortunate," and he left every impression that the union would go to war with Selig over disciplinary action based on uncontested witness statements in the report.

That could drive a new wedge between the owners and the union, and lead to labor strife after the unprecedented cooperation that led to one of the strongest steroid-testing policies in professional sports.

It's also possible some players could sue Mitchell, claiming they were unfairly identified in the report, but Major League Baseball agreed when it embarked on this investigation to indemnify the former senator against civil liability.

That means that somebody got closure yesterday, just not Major League Baseball, and just not us.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.comListen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BaseballMajor League BaseballElectionsReferendaMark McGwire
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