Without clout, Mitchell unlikely to succeed in MLB steroid probe

May 07, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

This isn't 20/20 hindsight. I predicted at the outset that Major League Baseball would regret embarking on the wide-ranging steroid investigation that was ordered by commissioner Bud Selig and undertaken by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell last month. Now, I'm sure of it.

The probe already has created new friction between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association, which has labeled the investigation a "substantial disruption" to the sport's labor relationship in an e-mail that was sent to agents and obtained by Newsday and the New York Post.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who realized five weeks ago that Mitchell, for all his political clout and personal credibility, was entering the highly charged steroid controversy with one hand tied behind his back. He does not have subpoena power to force players to cooperate with the investigation and MLB does not have the authority to discipline former steroid users who have not tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances under baseball's current steroid-testing program.

Mitchell reportedly has asked a number of current and former major league players to turn over personal records, including medical charts and telephone bills, in an attempt to gauge the scope of baseball's steroid problem. The union did not specifically advise players to refuse the requests, but union counsel Michael Weiner made it clear that the players are not obligated to cooperate with the investigation.

"The scope of the investigative efforts to date are plainly inconsistent with the provisions of the basic agreement, related agreements and other statuatory rights of the players," Weiner advised the agents.

This may sound like a lot of labor relations mumbo jumbo, but it probably portends a series of labor grievances that will drag out the investigation and - as a very smart-yet-overfed columnist pointed out on March 31 - could keep baseball and steroids in the same headlines for the foresee- able future.

Perhaps worse, the new tug-of-war between management and the union could bleed right into the next collective bargaining period, which is on the horizon.

If the intent was to keep Bonds from staining one of baseball's most revered records, baseball officials should have just allowed the BALCO grand jury investigation to run its course, since a perjury conviction could open a side door for Selig to impose a lengthy suspension on the San Francisco Giants' embattled slugger.

Instead, Major League Baseball is going to spend a lot of money and all it's going to buy is labor strife and several more months of bad publicity.

MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy made the right call when he belatedly ordered that special baseballs be shipped to Philadelphia to assure that there is no confusion if and when Bonds passes Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list.

The decision seemed to fly in the face of Selig's decision not to celebrate home run No. 715, but DuPuy recognized that using regular baseballs could lead to a dispute or lawsuit over the authenticity of the historic baseball. No sense making the situation any more complicated than it already is.

It's all Bonds all the time now that he's knocking on Babe Ruth's door. His every movement has become a major media event, to the point where Philadelphia fans made headlines on Friday for behaving badly in the stands. Last time I looked, Philly fans acting rudely wasn't considered news.

I'm starting to think that Roger Clemens planned all along to rejoin the Houston Astros a couple months into the season. He might be the first player ever to be happy about the May 1 re-signing embargo placed on teams that don't offer arbitration to their free agents.

This year's juiced-ball conspiracy theory has been bolstered by St. Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols, who currently is on pace to hit 86 home runs this year.

I think I know why Matt Leinart dropped all the way to the 10th pick in the NFL draft. When word got around that he is dating Paris Hilton, NFL scouts must have figured that was a sure sign he would be too easy to sack. peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) on Saturdays at noon.

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