Moving on


December 14, 2007|By BILL ORDINE

It was significant that in his news conference yesterday, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell struck the tone not of an investigative prosecutor - he once served as the U.S. attorney for Maine - but that of a peace-making diplomat, the role he assumed as the special envoy who helped broker the Belfast peace agreement in 1998.

In fact, he pointedly referenced his work in Northern Ireland as he laid out what he believed should be the next step for baseball.

Usually after investigations, the important discussion points are crime and punishment - with a small dollop of deterrence.

However, after his 20-month investigation, the overriding theme struck by Mitchell yesterday was that baseball should put behind it the recriminations associated with the use of performance-enhancing substances; mostly abandon the notion of punishment, and look ahead to ensuring fairness for the players and restoring the confidence of fans.

Underscoring that suggestion is the fact that so many of the players whose names were associated with the report are, in fact, out of the game. And it should be considered good advice, in part, because the due process required to mete out discipline would be a considerable undertaking. Keep in mind that a New York Mets clubhouse attendant, who pleaded guilty to federal steroid-dealing charges, is the Mitchell Report's star witness. The ex-Mets employee, Kirk Radomski, cooperated as part of his plea deal.

And Mitchell did baseball commissioner Bud Selig a giant favor, as well. Mitchell's general recommendation to not go on a binge of suspensions - instead, employing discipline only in rare situations in which the integrity of the game is at issue - gives Selig an opportunity to avoid what would promise to be a morass of further investigations, hearings, appeals and unpleasant suspension announcements.

But to follow all of Mitchell's recommendations - especially that drug testing be conducted by an outside authority - would require Selig and team owners to essentially relinquish some control over their enterprise and put it in someone else's hands. The players union is also a stakeholder in such a decision. That's scary business for powerful people.

In moving toward peace in Northern Ireland, Mitchell had to be artful in persuading divergent groups to make leaps of faith. We'll see if his report and rhetoric are equally influential in moving baseball in a similar fashion.

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