Caught in web

The Baltimore Sun

At 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, he is among the smallest players linked to performance-enhancing drugs by the Mitchell Report. Small in stature, but not in significance.

The Orioles were recurring characters in the 409-page report. Of the 80-plus players outed in the report, 19 had passed through the Orioles' clubhouse and were linked to performance-enhancing drugs with varying degrees of evidence. But of all the accused, it's Brian Roberts' case that best illustrates all that was wrong with the Mitchell investigation.

Certainly, there was a lot of good in the report, which was released yesterday and was the result of a 20-month investigation by former Sen. George Mitchell. It painted a thorough and believable picture of a rampant and accepted drug culture that was prevalent in major league clubhouses. It also outlined the history of steroids in baseball and plotted a course for the immediate future.

And while it hung damning evidence on some great players -- MVPs, All-Stars and potential Hall of Famers -- it hung others out to dry.

Let's travel together to Page 158, where we learn that Roberts was friends with former Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie. We learn that during the 2001 season, Bigbie and Roberts, both rookies at the time, lived in the home of David Segui, who has readily admitted to using steroids and human growth hormone.

Bigbie spoke with investigators about his drug use and said it was Segui who introduced him to Kirk Radomski and performance-enhancing drugs.

Here's the compelling evidence against Roberts:

"When Bigbie and Segui used steroids in the house, Roberts did not participate," the report states. "According to Bigbie, however, in 2004 Roberts admitted to him that he had injected himself once or twice with steroids in 2003. Until this admission, Bigbie had never suspected Roberts of using steroids."

That's it.

Guys like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte have eyewitnesses who saw them -- helped them, in some cases -- inject steroids. Guys like Miguel Tejada and Segui have a paper trail, copies of checks that implicate them in the purchase of performance-enhancing drugs.

And Roberts? The case Mitchell presented against him feels about as solid as a wet noodle. It's solely an account from a confessed cheat who didn't see anything and has zero proof of anything.

While Roberts' example is an extreme, many of the accusations hinge on the words of suspect characters without concrete proof.

"Many players are named. Their reputations have been adversely affected, probably forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been," union executive director Donald Fehr said. "In my view, anyone interested in fairly assessing the allegations against a player should consider the nature of the evidence presented, the reliability of the source and the absence of procedural safeguards individuals who may be accused of wrongdoing should be afforded."

If only the court of public opinion worked that way.

In a court of law, I feel confident there's not a chance those charges would even make it through the front doorway. Mitchell knows that -- he's a former federal judge -- which is why it seems particularly odd that such a flimsy charge would be included in the report. The standard of proof seems otherwise fairly high.

None of this is to entirely excuse Roberts. Like I said, his case represents all that was wrong with the report, and Roberts deserves some culpability for his role -- or his lack thereof.

Again, from page 158 of the report: "In order to provide Roberts with information about the allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me; he declined."

This is where sympathy meets its limitations. No matter the outrage accused players surely will express in the coming days, remember that they had their opportunity. Based on the thoroughness and objectivity Mitchell exhibited throughout, if Roberts -- or any number of other players -- had chosen to participate, the reputations they care so passionately about presumably could have been spared immensely.

That's the part I never understood. If you have nothing to hide, then why hide? If you don't want to be wrongly fingered in the final report, then why not defend your name during the investigation rather than wait for the aftermath?

If Roberts did nothing wrong, he should have shared that with an investigator.

In addition to assisting the investigation, the players association could have helped its players. The union has resisted Mitchell and this investigation since it was announced 20 months ago. Rather than embrace the mission and the objective, union officials stamped their feet and warned players against cooperation.

It's too bad. Had they played a role, the result would have been a report that was more thorough, more accurate and, for guys like Roberts, more fair.

Instead, the final product is lacking -- in what it says and in what it doesn't say.

We wanted hard evidence. We got more clues.

We wanted a meticulous report. We got part-investigation, part-supermarket tabloid.

We wanted a smoking gun, and instead we got a water pistol.

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