Ron Agostini

Mitchell's steroids report leaves plenty of questions

The TV airwaves were saturated by George Mitchell's "stunning new report" about the steroids "bombshell" that just exploded on baseball.

Stunning? Bombshell? Anyone out there shocked about this?

Didn't think so.

If you were paying attention, you should not have been blind-sided about the results of Mitchell's 20-month drug probe. Yes, Roger Clemens may have pulled up a chair next to Barry Bonds on the post-office bulletin board of alleged -- or not so alleged -- users of performance enhancers. Bonds probably smiled Thursday because he finally has elite company in the Dianabol Doghouse, and who really believed he was the lone abuser?

Fact is, 85 active or retired players were targeted by the Mitchell investigation. The number accounts for about 1 percent of all players in the last decade, a curious stat given that 7 percent tested positive in 2003. What happened to everyone else? Did they discover the latest masking agent? Or were they just not home when Mitchell's boys came calling?

Here is the essential point about the latest news: Steroid use was rampant, not just Bonds rampant, in Major League Baseball the last two decades. There are many players, drug users all, backflipping and cartwheeling after their names somehow avoided Mitchell's black list.

Mitchell's truth-chase wasn't even aided by the power of subpoena. Few players even dared to cooperate, an indictment by itself. All told, he dredged up only an ex-Mets batboy (Kirk Radomski) who pled guilty in March to steroid dealing, and an ex-Yankee strength coach (Brian McNamee) for his prime-time breakthroughs. Still, the summary of Mitchell's findings is hard to miss: What he "uncovered" was the tip of one hellacious iceberg.

Mitchell's list tells you all you need to know about the Steroids Era. It covers the entire baseball spectrum, including Modesto. Identified were ex-Modesto Athletics Miguel Tejada, Adam Piatt, Cody McKay, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and ex-Modesto Nuts manager Glenallen Hill.

Also, there were popular guys (Matt Herges), villains (Bonds), talk-show personalities (F.P. Santangelo), former stars (Eric Gagne), current stars (Andy Pettitte), pitchers fighting to hang on (Paul Byrd), players you never would have suspected (Wally Joyner), guys who immediately flunked the eyeball test (Bobby Estalella), sluggers (Rondell White) and fringe players desperate for any edge (Marvin Benard).

I'm not saying everyone is guilty -- the innocent should shout from the rooftops -- but roll call would last until, say, Opening Day.

It seems all entities related to baseball must take the fall -- Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners for looking the other way while players puffed their muscles like Popeye, the media for doing the same until Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire forced their hand in 1998, the fans for enjoying all those home runs and strikeouts without questioning the hows or whys and, of course, the players for allegedly breaking the law (either federal or baseball).

What we didn't, and will never, hear from Selig was, "I'm responsible." Contrast him with the downright refreshing words from Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr: "In retrospect, perhaps we should have done something sooner."

Incredibly, someone in baseball carefully tiptoed toward blame. Circle the date and throw it into a time capsule.

Selig said Mitchell's evidence was "a call to action, and I will act," and that he'll study each episode "case by case." Bank on it: He'll throw some veteran middle reliever or two under the bus as a showcase. Matching up with Clemens and his briefcase-snapping attorneys, however, promises to be messy. I doubt Selig possesses the will for that job.

Because the reason for the Mitchell Commission's report was based more on style than substance. Much of its findings appears to be flimsy and hard to prove in a courtroom. That said, baseball must at least look like it's attacking the steroids monster to retain its credibility.

In 1995 after the strike, the baseball industry was worth $1.3 billion. Today, it's $6.2 billion. All of it is at stake here -- TV contracts, franchise values and, above all, your trust.

I suspect Selig will do just enough against steroids to keep the turnstiles spinning. Until a reliable test is found for human growth hormone, any action amounts to just poking around the edges. Soon to begin is a new chapter of the Kabuki dance between the owners and Players Association, rivals connected by the same goal: Don't destroy the money machine.

Precious little about the Mitchell Report, or anything surrounding it, is shocking.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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