Was it really worth it?
C'mon. Was it really worth all that money, all that time, all that trouble?
Was it really worth it to relive all those years of ugliness, shred all those reputations, embarrass the sport of baseball all over again?
The answers to that string of questions can be summed up with one pithy little word: no.
I thought 20 months ago that the Mitchell report was a lousy idea. And here I am, having read 359 scintillating pages of it (so far), just as convinced of that as ever.
But now that it's out there for your downloading delight, right here on this very site, Bud Selig's sport won't be the same. Can't be the same. Shouldn't be the same.
How has the Mitchell report changed baseball's landscape? Here are five ways it will undoubtedly leave its mark:
1. The Rocket's legacy
There are 86 players named in the Mitchell Report. But among the "new" names, there's only one living legend. And if you guessed we don't mean Josias Manzanillo, way to go.
Yes, who among us will ever look at Roger Clemens quite the same after the Mitchell report?
Who among us will ever be able to forget what it felt like to read eyeball-rattling phrases like, "McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone," in this report?
Not this particular observer. That's for darned sure.
Is there any doubt the Mitchell report will wreak havoc on Clemens' legacy, reputation and Hall of Fame vote totals?
Is there any doubt that 99 percent of all Americans already regard George Mitchell's conclusions about the Rocket as immutable fact, without even examining them closely?
So you probably don't even care that Clemens' lawyer was using words like "slander" to characterize all this. You probably don't even care that the evidence is more tenuous than you'd think.
You probably don't even care that two attorneys who were surveyed Thursday, both of whom now work in the sports world, say they're extremely dubious that the allegations against Clemens would hold up in court. Not even in a civil case.
You might find that surprising, considering that Clemens is one of the few players in this report whose alleged use of illegal substances was actually witnessed by a living, breathing human being (trainer Brian McNamee) who then spoke with the Mitchell crew.
But one attorney -- a man who doesn't represent players, by the way -- said the entire case is "all based on one guy [McNamee], and there's no documentation."
True, there are checks written by McNamee to the human smoking gun, Kirk Radomski. But the report tells us, right there on Page 174, that Radomski admitted that McNamee never told him that Clemens (or Andy Pettitte) used steroids or HGH. It was merely implied, Radomski said.
Those implications were good enough for George Mitchell -- obviously. But the other attorney we surveyed said that in an actual court, a judge would tell a jury that the testimony of a witness like McNamee, who had made a deal with the government, was "not sufficient for conviction. There must be independent corroboration."
So what's the corroboration? Information supplied by another witness who made a deal with the government. Uh-oh.
Now nobody disputes that the circumstantial evidence here is still the most powerful content in this whole report. And nobody believes that the American public will give a flying forkball about those reasonable doubts. Heck, the jury of public opinion had rendered its verdict 15 seconds after this report hit the nearest TV screen.
So Clemens' reputation has already gurgled down the drain. But if there's anyone out there who still believes in that old-fashioned innocent-until-proven-guilty stuff, you might want to read that Clemens section over one more time.
2. The commish's legacy
Not every commissioner would spend this much money to dredge up so many old wounds and inflict this much humiliation on his own sport. So give Bud Selig credit for that.
He knew this report would be gruesome, and he launched it all the same.
He didn't even care how much it cost. He reiterated that one more time Thursday, when he answered a question about the outrageous price tag by saying: "There was a higher cost in not doing this."
"I didn't want somebody to say some day, 'What were they hiding?' " said Selig.
And now they won't. Theoretically.
So we'll salute the courage it took for the commish to plow ahead with this dubious exercise, against the advice of everyone around him. We sure hope some good comes of it.
But while this report never quite includes the words, "Bud Selig screwed up," it also casts a shadow from which the commissioner can't possibly escape.
After all, this sport, with its runaway drug culture, was Bud Selig's sport.
And this report, in laying out the history of this mess, supplies a timeline that makes it clear Selig should have been aware of steroids -- or at least asking penetrating questions -- years, if not a whole decade, before he did.
Yet when the commish was asked point-blank Thursday if he thought he was "at fault" in any way, he danced away from uttering anything even close to those words -- saying instead that "what we need to do is look forward now."
It wasn't exactly Mark McGwire saying he wasn't here to talk about the past. But it was definitely tough to miss the irony.
So if the commissioner thinks he's going to be exonerated because he empowered George Mitchell to collect 20 years of dirty laundry, ehhh, sorry, Bud.
"You can't be the commissioner of an institution that's diseased," said one baseball man Thursday, "and not take some responsibility. It's that simple."
3. Those other names
The names in the Mitchell report just keep on coming.
It's those names that will keep the headline writers in business. It's those names that will feed the tabloid portion of all our brains. It's those names that are now stained forever.
OK, so maybe not all those names.
"Does anybody really give a [hoot] whether Tim Laker or Josias Manzanillo did anything?" asked one baseball man.
Well, maybe Mrs. Laker and Mrs. Manzanillo. But good point.
As for those other names, uh, it's time for a couple of questions about them.
The first big question is about what this particular collection of names even represents. It's no definitive list. That's for sure.
Even Mitchell concedes himself, early on, that the use of illegal substances was "not limited" to just these names. Hey, ya think?
In fact, according to Sean Forman, of baseball-reference.com's amazing play index, 5,148 players have made it into at least one major league box score since 1985, the year Radomski went to work for the Mets.
So that means that precisely 1.67 percent of them made it into this report. Shockingly exclusive group, wouldn't you say?
And that leads to the next big question: If the list was that exclusive, shouldn't there have been way more evidence justifying the inclusion of the names that did make it?
Instead, as one baseball man put it, "I'm in a state of shock that he put some of these names in this report."
Take Brian Roberts, for example. Nobody in here has a bigger beef than he does.
The main points in this report are good. But he really could have written this, and drawn the same conclusions, without the names. And I wish he would have.
--One baseball man
What's the "evidence" in his case? An alleged lunch date with Radomski, David Segui and Larry Bigbie -- after which Segui is said to have bought steroids (with Roberts not present). And Bigbie's claim that Roberts told him he used steroids "once or twice," even though Bigbie never witnessed it or even suspected it.
That's it. No syringes. No empty bottles. No shipping labels. Nada. I can't think of any self-respecting editor I've ever worked for or with who would have allowed me to write a news story based on "evidence" that flimsy. So what's it doing in a report that cost more than the Florida Marlins' entire payroll?
There are way too many instances of name-dropping much like this, with a blank check here or an address-book listing there, but no true corroboration anywhere. That, however, is because Mitchell admits that his star witness, Radomski, didn't "observe" or "participate" in the actual use of drugs by any of the 53 players he named.
Yet every player named has to carry that black mark around him for the rest of his life. Not that a large percentage of them aren't guilty -- of something. But if you read each account carefully, you'd have a hard time deciding which are and which aren't.
"The main points in this report are good," said one baseball man after reading it. "But he really could have written this, and drawn the same conclusions, without the names. And I wish he would have."
4. "Crime" and punishment
George Mitchell could not have been more clear about one thing in this report.
He just about pleaded with Bud Selig, in writing, to resist the urge to start doling out suspensions to the "guilty."
The commish, however, has other ideas. He's going to "take action where he thinks it's appropriate."
That sounds like tough, decisive, commissioner-esque talk, all right. But the commish had better understand that if he chooses to go this route, he'll have a battle royale on his hands.
By our count, of the 86 players named, only eight were actually witnessed using any of these substances -- and five of them were in the minor leagues at the time, long before Selig implemented his minor league steroid program.
The other three -- Clemens, Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch -- are all linked to Brian McNamee. And the issues with his testimony were laid out in the Clemens' section of this column.
In the case of nearly every other player named, the only witness is Radomski. And he might be, well, unavailable -- for a long, long while.
"You think they're going to let Radomski out of a federal jail so he can testify in a Major League Baseball arbitration hearing?" asked one attorney. "I don't think so."
But there's an even more compelling reason for Selig to avoid the crime-and-punishment route than the potential unavailability of his biggest witness. And no one summed up that reason better than Mitchell himself.
"Spending months, or even years, in contentious disciplinary procedures," Mitchell wrote, "will keep everyone mired in the past."
And remember, "the important thing is to move forward."
Except it wasn't George Mitchell who made that last statement. It was the man determined to ignore it -- Bud Selig.
5. The fight for a better tomorrow
For all the flaws, the problems and the shortcomings of the Mitchell report, it deserves its due on one count -- the most important count of all, in fact.
The whole idea of this extravaganza was to point baseball toward a cleaner, brighter, better future. And the report does an admirable job of doing exactly that.
As it paints its picture of how this sport got itself into this quagmire, it's more than merely a tale of players looking for ways to beat the system.
It's a tale of high-ranking officials throughout baseball who had suspicions, or uncovered drug paraphernalia, or saw things they shouldn't have seen, or heard things they shouldn't have heard -- and did absolutely zilcho.
In some cases -- heck, in many cases -- it was because they thought nobody at MLB really cared. Or when they did try to take some action, nobody ever followed up.
Well, that has to change. And this report lays out a blueprint for how to make certain it does change.
There does need to be a full-time baseball steroid czar who will be available to follow every lead.
There does need to be a sport-wide edict that requires, in the report's words, "all information about possible use must be reported immediately and directly."
This sport does need a log of all the packages that get sent to big league clubhouses.
This sport does need to start testing potential first-round draft picks.
I have to do something about it. ... And I think the sport will be better off.
--Commissioner Bud Selig
And while this testing system may be on an equal footing now with those of the other pro sports (and superior in many respects), baseball does need to raise that bar, establish independent control and be more vigilant to establish more frequent, unannounced, year-round testing.
The clean players do, to quote the report, "deserve far better than they have had to endure." And now it's time for everyone -- from the commissioner to the union, from the GMs to the clubhouse men and, of course, for the players themselves -- to commit to making that happen.
Did Bud Selig really need to spend (pick a number) $20 million, $30 million, $50 million or whatever the heck this report cost to find all that out? We've all got our doubts about that, don't we?
But now, as Selig himself said, "I have to do something about it. ... And I think the sport will be better off."
Boy, let's hope so. After all the scars and shiners this report laid on the face of the great sport of baseball Thursday afternoon, let's all hope so.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.