MacPhail: Steroid cloud didn't dampen trading

Officials downplay or avoid pending Mitchell Report on drug use

December 09, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

Nashville, Tenn. -- One of the unseen benefits of holding Major League Baseball's winter meetings last week at the gigantic Opryland Resort is that there was plenty of space to accommodate the elephant in the middle of every meeting room.

Perhaps as soon as midweek, the result of the independent investigation of performance-enhancing drug use in baseball - dubbed the Mitchell Report after lead investigator and former Sen. George Mitchell - will be released.

Baseball is holding its collective breath while assuming dozens of current and former players will be implicated, creating further embarrassment for a sport that has been entangled in steroid controversies for most of the decade.

At last week's annual meetings, the Mitchell Report was downplayed by most and completely avoided by some. One prominent major league executive waved his hand and said "Stop right there" when the subject was mentioned. He said he didn't want his name connected to it in any way.

The common sentiment, however, is that baseball officials acknowledge the report and its salacious details are coming, but that it hasn't really hampered business as usual.

"[It's] been a topic of conversation, but I can't comment on how other clubs view it or how we view it," Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "In the last probably 15 years, [steroids have] been discussed more and more by baseball people. And especially with testing coming about, there could be the possibility of some things getting snagged on some deals."

If there were closed-door discussions among general managers about steroids, those talks weren't the primary cause for a lack of trades and free-agent activity last week, Orioles president Andy MacPhail said.

"Not to the extent that the business of trying to procure talent has been [affected]," MacPhail said about Mitchell Report rumblings. "I think [GMs] are pretty focused on the things that they need to do. That's been my experience."

Orioles manager Dave Trembley said he hadn't heard the subject broached during his time at the winter meetings, and he considered himself fortunate.

"I don't think a whole lot of people want to talk about it," Trembley said. "I think people are interested in it. But I don't think people want to talk about it because it just doesn't give you a real good feeling, doesn't sit very well."

One player's agent, who requested anonymity because he didn't want to create suspicion about his clients, said steroids and the Mitchell Report weren't mentioned when he talked contracts with executives from various clubs. He said he doesn't think teams really are concerned about the potential consequences the allegations might have on players. He pointed to outfielder Jose Guillen as a prime example.

Guillen signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Kansas City Royals last week despite a report that the outfielder had received shipments of human growth hormone and performance-enhancing drugs. On Thursday, Guillen and Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons each were suspended for 15 days for violating the league's drug policy.

Guillen's new general manager, Kansas City's Dayton Moore, said he knew the punishment was a possibility but didn't let that alter his plan for improving the Royals.

The same philosophy can apply to the secrets looming in the Mitchell Report, because there is no indication as to what penalties, if any, will be doled out once names are revealed.

"You don't know who they are, what the consequences are," MacPhail said. "I just think the regular movement of talent is difficult enough. You aren't going to add another layer to it and start speculating about things. I don't think it's helpful."

There is a certain eagerness for the release of the report, however, if only because it will be another step toward moving beyond the so-called steroid era.

"It is easy to dwell on it, and I guess it is a more interesting deal when you start to get into the gritty details," Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. said. "I wish it wasn't there. I wish the cloud wasn't hanging, but I guess the cloud will be pushed away and baseball will be continued to be seen as a great game."

Trembley laments the timing of the report - that it'll likely be released right before the Christmas holidays, "at a time when it should be a joyous occasion."

But he's also glad it "comes out now and doesn't come out the first day of spring training. Let's give it some time to get this out of the way and let's start 2008 on a positive note."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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