If you’ve ever gone to the movies or taken in a play, you know that Act II is always considered the build up to the climax, or Act III. While MLB certainly isn’t seeing the first, or the last trips up to Capitol Hill, in terms of the fallout from the Mitchell Report, tomorrow’s testimony by Commissioner Selig, MLBPA Executive Director Fehr, and former Senator George Mitchell has all the earmarks of an “Act II”.
Let’s face it, while this hearing will most likely have the substance to best tell the story, the fireworks (if you have to call it that) will be when players such as Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, and, oh yes, Roger Clemens, Brian McNamee and Kirk Rodomski possibly answer questions.
But tomorrow’s hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on performance-enhancing substances in MLB will be, yet again, a trip to the Principle’s Office. If you don’t think that baseball isn’t already greasing the skids, you haven’t been watching. The Commissioner’s Office has been busy implementing a series of initiatives that can be done without the need to collectively bargain with the players.
On January 7th, management moved on five recommendations from the Mitchell Report. The details revolve around how clubhouse security will be going forward. They are:
- Background checks will be performed on all existing clubhouse personnel and new hires.
- Random drug tests will be performed on all clubhouse personnel.
- Clubs will be required to maintain a log of all packages sent to clubhouses at Major League ballparks.
- Clubs will be required to distribute Major League Baseball’s Policy on “Disclosing Information Relating to the Use, Possession or Distribution of Prohibited Substances” to all Club employees and to post the policy in the clubhouse.
- The overnight notice to Clubs before the arrival of Comprehensive Drug Testing personnel has been eliminated. All Clubs will be required to have a single, designated area for collections in both the home and visiting clubhouses. Collectors will be provided with permanent, official credentials and their access will be facilitated.
Then, on Thursday of last week, MLB, along with the NFL, and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) launched Partnership for Clean Competition (PCC), a non-profit organization, will be combining resources to, “underwrite meaningful and scientifically legitimate anti-doping research,” according to an announcement released by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
All of these organizations pitched in a combined $10 million, or approx. $3 million by MLB. One can debate how serious an investment this is as a start (as an example, each of the 30 owners pitched in $8 million in 2000 to launch MLB Advanced Media) to a research consortium. As to whether Commissioner Selig will bring up this newly formed partnership in terms of its political, “look at how we’re proactively working on research” factor, you can bank on it.
As Commissioner Selig said at the time of the announcement on Jan. 7th, “Major League Baseball will soon be announcing additional changes based on the recommendations made by Senator Mitchell.” There’s little doubt that the Commissioner’s Office is sending a clear message that they will be proactive in the efforts to eradicate PEDs from baseball, with or without the MLBPA on-board. In doing so, the onus is placed on Don Fehr and the players. While there may be pointed questions at Selig and Mitchell (more on that in a bit), it will most certainly be Fehr who will be asked what will further me done to further strengthen the drug testing program in MLB. Ahead of the hearings, MLB President Bob DuPuy, and Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, have already met with Michael Weiner, the MLBPA’s general counsel about further changes to MLB’s drug policy. For that to occur, the current collective bargaining agreement will need to be reopened. If that were to occur, it would mark the second such time that an MLB CBA has been re-opened.
As to former Senator Mitchell, call me jaded, but the idea of Congress grilling one of its own, especially of Mitchell’s stature, seems remote. However, here’s to hoping that questions are asked of him about his report. After all, there’s certainly some holes within it.
Therefore, Selig, Fehr, and Mitchell will make their opening statements. But, what questions could be asked? Here’s some suggestions.
- “Mr. Mitchell, after 20 months of investigation, your report commissioned is based largely on the work of federal investigations already in progress. If you had this information provided to you by those sources, and you had difficulty getting the players to interview due to lack of subpoena power, why was there not more detail on failures, that you yourself, occurred from the top down in Major League Baseball.”
- “Mr. Selig, how do you explain how we arrived at the PED culture we now find ourselves in? If you back the findings of the Mitchell Commission and the final report, how did you fail in doing more to prevent the proliferation of PEDs in Major League Baseball.”
- “Mr. Fehr, you said in your statement after the Mitchell Report was released that, ‘Perhaps we and the owners could have taken these steps sooner. But the Program in place today is a strong and effective one, and has been improved even in the last two years. The report does not suggest that the program is failing to pick up steroid use which it is possible to detect.’ What steps do you feel the owners and the players could have done to improve the testing program, and what are you now ready to do to improve the system further?”
Those are only three questions I would like to see asked. I’m certain I could think of far more, as could you.
We know that Fehr will likely be peppered with more hard-hitting questions than Selig and Mitchell, which seems somewhat backward. After all, Mitchell has released a report with a series of names within it as the bulk of its focus. Those players will have to work within a system that is backwards from how we are supposed to view “the American way”, innocent until proven guilty. If Commissioner Selig backs the reports, and baseball commissioned the report, then they, as well, are responsible.
The focus of the Mitchell Report has been on the players. But, Act II of this play is the one that points to the character development. It is these principle players, Selig, Fehr, and Mitchell, which have built the foundation for where we have wound up. To make this matter entirely about a “list of players” would be only telling part of the story. Let’s hope Congress sees the truth in that, and lends more focus to the story than the media and the fallout from the Mitchell Report has provided.