The chemical era*

December 14, 2007

Many baseball fans will no doubt be disappointed with the nonrevelatory nature of former Sen. George J. Mitchell's report on the use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs among major-league baseball players. For 20 months of investigation and hundreds of interviews, much of it reads like a five-year compilation of press clippings. The evidence presented against all-star pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte may be new (and damning), but the vast majority of the players named in the voluminous report have been linked to such drug use before.

That's hardly a surprise. Mr. Mitchell had little cooperation from active players, and his investigators lacked subpoena power. But even so, the report brings some much-needed perspective on baseball's continuing failure to recognize and adequately address the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

How widespread has it been? The Mitchell report gives no definitive answer, but it obviously has been pervasive. A 2003 survey suggesting 5 percent to 7 percent use is almost certainly a low-ball estimate. And, as Mr. Mitchell pointed out in yesterday's news conference, the use of steroids may be in decline but the use of human growth hormone (which is not detected by current testing) is on the rise.

His prescription for baseball includes creation of an independent investigative office, an improved player education program and more extensive random testing with technology that's updated as new drugs come on the market or existing ones become more easily disguised. Such common-sense recommendations ought to be adopted as soon as possible.

Mr. Mitchell is also correct that there's little to be gained by any effort of Major League Baseball to further investigate most of these drug violations of years past. Baseball's standards and penalties have changed over time, and proving what players did and did not do years ago (and what punishment can even be applied) is a near-impossible task, and such a potential witch hunt would only be a distraction.

Closer to home, the Orioles certainly had their share of players earn mention in the report, including departing shortstop Miguel Tejada, but that's probably a function of who talked to investigators and not an indication that drug use was any more prevalent in Baltimore's clubhouse.

Nevertheless, the report ought to bring shame on the owners for neglecting such a disastrous situation for so long, to the players union for resisting random drug testing, and to so many players who chose to violate the law and set a dangerous example for high school athletes and other youngsters. If baseball is ever to overcome its asterisk in history, all involved must commit to ending the sport's chemical era.

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