Mitchell investigation would have fallen flat without the feds

NEW YORK -- Over the 409 pages of the Mitchell report, one singular theme resonates more powerfully than all the rest: Only the enormous power of the federal government allowed former Sen. George Mitchell to produce the often-flawed but powerful document that now stands as baseball's official explanation of the years immediately leading up to and following the 1994 player strike.

Baseball executives Thursday viewed the report as the sport's only chance to begin a new history without flinching from its past, and at many levels, it is an unprecedented document. No American major sports league has ever attempted to reconcile with its past by commissioning a full-scale investigation.

Nor, after years of refusing to acknowledge its players' transgressions, can baseball do much but confront the stark and unflinching details of the report's conclusions: The report claims that seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens has been using steroids and growth hormone for at least the past decade. It also states that Miguel Tejada, who once drove in 150 runs and won the 2002 American League MVP, used steroids and growth hormone. And that a host of key individuals, ranging from two-time World Series-winning managers Tom Kelly and Tony La Russa to Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and former Phillies manager Lee Thomas, were all at one time or another confronted with a serious steroid issue and chose to avoid it.

And perhaps most appropriate of the era, Mitchell reports in hard detail how the San Francisco Giants' front office of general manager Brian Sabean and owner Peter Magowan did not heed the protestations of athletic trainer Stan Conte, instead enabling Barry Bonds and his entourage to expose the Giants' clubhouse to a steroid dealer.

But without receiving massive amounts of information from government cases involving former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, as well as the federal government's pressuring of Brian McNamee, personal trainer of Roger Clemens, the bulk and reach of Mitchell's report would have been severely limited. And it would have reflected the fears that persisted since the beginning of the investigation that, despite his considerable résumé, Mitchell would not be able to overcome the overwhelming lack of cooperation on the part of the active major league players.

In its 20-month investigation, the Mitchell team produced precious few levels of new information, but the crossover between his investigation and the government's criminal pursuit of steroid and growth hormone rings is perhaps the most revealing element of the document. While the pressure mounted on Mitchell to produce names, the refusal on the part of the players forced investigators, until the government mobilized, to rely on newspaper reports and high-profile books about steroids.

The report is often flawed. Though perhaps the most passionate of subjects, Mitchell's report offered no recommendations to commissioner Bud Selig regarding baseball's record book. And virtually all of his recommendations to strengthen drug testing have been suggested by various anti-drug experts for the past several years.

During the length of the Mitchell investigation, sources throughout baseball expressed pessimism that investigators would be able to overcome the lack of cooperation on the part of the players. Athletic trainers and strength coaches feared a document heavy on names but light on solutions. Team executives braced for a withering assessment of their role in enabling a steroid culture that has leveled the moral legitimacy of the sport.

On Thursday, when the report was made public after 20 months, more than 700 interviews, 115,000 pages of documents and data collection from the computer systems of many of the 30 teams, all parties fears were realized. The result is a document that is at times devastating to an uncooperative Major League Baseball Players Association, the managers and general managers who refused to act on obvious signs of drug use and the 86 players, many of whom through dubious personal associations with individuals in the government's snare, were named in the report.

The government is the power behind the report. Mitchell named eight players -- Marvin Benard, Barry Bonds, Bobby Estalella, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield and Randy Velarde -- who were all implicated in the BALCO case.

The fear that permeated the investigation's early stages that player silence was stonewalling the investigation was relieved by the April 2007 arrest of Radomski, which created another paper trail -- the final 31 pages of the report are photocopies of canceled checks and mail slips from major league players to Radomski -- that from a player perspective, stands as the dominant portion of the Mitchell report.

Meanwhile, it was the federal pressure on McNamee that allowed Mitchell to include Clemens in the report. The documentation of Clemens' reported steroid use spans nearly eight pages -- pages that will not be long forgotten in baseball history.

The combination of information provided by Radomski and McNamee produced another 53 names in the report.

Moreover, the report did not produce any new information on Bonds. As part of their perjury case against him, the Justice Department is forbidden from releasing additional information regarding his case. Bonds pleaded not guilty Nov. 15 to four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice.

Union vs. Management

From the start, Mitchell said he did not expect cooperation from the players' association, and he did not get it. On page SR-7 of the report, Mitchell made clear what was long considered to be his greatest obstacle.

"The Players Association was largely uncooperative. It rejected totally my request for relevant documents," the report stated, adding that, ". . . I received allegations of the illegal possession or use of performance enhancing substances by a number of current players. Through their representative, the Players Association, I asked each of them to meet with me so that I could provide them with information about the allegations and give them a chance to respond. Almost without exception, they declined to meet or talk with me."

Executive culpability

If there existed a feeling among team executives before the report was released that Mitchell would criticize them while not demanding similar accountability of Selig and the commissioner's office, many general managers were, for them, unfortunately vindicated. In the "Summary and Recommendations" section, the report states that the "response by baseball was slow to develop" and that all of baseball from "top to bottom" -- including commissioners, Mitchell said Thursday -- were culpable for allowing the steroid culture to exist.

Mitchell does not, however, cite specific examples in the report that blame Selig or the commissioner's office directly, but offered devastating examples where managers, clubhouse employees and general managers were at fault.

But unlike the player section of the report, which contains each player's name in boldface and a summary of the allegations against him, the elements of the report that deal with executive culpability also allow each executive plausible deniability as to the extent of their knowledge.

• On page 64, Mitchell recounts St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's 2005 interview on "60 Minutes Wednesday" that when Jose Canseco played for him in Oakland Canseco "would laugh about the time that other guys were spending [in the gym] and how he didn't have to, because he was, he was doing the other 'helper.' He was having help in a different way, you know, the easy way." The report mentions an interview La Russa gave to the San Francisco Chronicle that Canseco got "bigger than ever" and that La Russa "got suspicious and actually confronted him." On page 65, Dave McKay, an A's coach at the time, is quoted in the New York Times and Toronto Sun that Canseco openly talked about steroids.

"But, when La Russa and McKay were interviewed in connection with this investigation," the report reads, "they both denied having direct knowledge that Canseco used steroids" and that "La Russa claimed he had 'exaggerated in his CBS interview that Canseco had never used the word 'helper' and that, in fact, La Russa had never confronted Canseco about his use of steroids.'"

• On page 67, the report recounts a moment when Philadelphia Phillies trainer Jeff Cooper told his general manager Lee Thomas that a player's steroid use was "obvious," and that Thomas "advised Cooper that he should raise the subject with the player directly. Cooper then did raise the issue with the player, who said it was none of Cooper's business. The matter went no further."

• On page 109, the report reads that Houston Astros traveling secretary Barry Waters received a package intended for former Astros infielder Ken Caminiti that contained "glass vials containing a white liquid that he believed to be anabolic steroids" but Waters never reported the incident.

• On page 110, former Orioles infielder David Segui told co-general managers Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie that he planned a trip to Florida to obtain growth hormone. "No one in the Orioles organization reported Segui's admission of human growth hormone to the Commissioner's Office," the report read. "Segui has since admitted that use publicly."

• On page 110, a visiting clubhouse attendant alerted former Minnesota manager Tom Kelly of a syringe he found on a trash can. According to the report, "Kelly confirmed the incident and said that he did not report the incident to anyone because he felt it 'wasn't any of [his] business' and that it was the other team's issue to address."

• Both Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox officials discussed drug use by pitcher Eric Gagne. According to the report, on Nov. 1, 2006, Boston general manager Theo Epstein sent an e-mail to a Red Sox scout asking, "Have you done any digging on Gagne? I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?'" The scout, Mark Delpiano, responded in an e-mail that "Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue." The Red Sox acquired Gagne in 2007.

Had players chosen to cooperate with the investigation -- the report claims that 50 active players declined to confront the information Mitchell had -- perhaps certain sections of the report might have been more charitable to them. Gagne declined Mitchell's request to discuss the incident.

And this tactical decision on the part of the players and their union in the eyes of history may make them more culpable for the existence of the steroid era.

Mitchell stated in the report that he attempted to speak with Mark McGwire regarding his infamous 2005 congressional testimony and the allegations by Canseco that he personally injected McGwire with steroids.

"Through his personal lawyer, I asked McGwire to meet with me for an interview about these issues, but he declined to do so," the report said. "I then sent his lawyer a list of specific questions about whether McGwire had ever used steroids or other performance-enhancing substances without a prescription during his major-league career in the hope that McGwire would be willing to provide a response outside the context of an interview. Neither McGwire nor his lawyer responded to the letter."

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.