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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Mitchell Report at a glance

Fishing for guppies and landing a whopper

Former Senate majority leader George Mitchell's report on drug use in baseball was released on Friday afternoon, and sent the pundits and talking heads venting over the airwaves this past weekend. It is a behemoth of a report at 409 pages, and for all of those with some spare time this holiday season, you can download it here, while those with admittedly less time can view the executive summary here.

In the beginning many thought this was a fishing expedition of epic proportions, and was destined to return empty handed, or with only a few small time offenders. However in the end they landed a legend of baseball, the seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. Many other names were included in the report, and a history of drug use in baseball over the past 15 years is an important addition.

Also, on Sunday night Alex Rodriguez appeared in an interview on 60 Minutes, denying any drug use and also stating that he never once saw any illicit activity, although mentioning that there was always talk about it here and there.

Besides the players who were named in the report, the biggest loser is probably the Players Association. Mitchell states plainly that the association was "uncooperative" in many ways:
  1. Rejecting requests for relevant documents
  2. Granting only one interview with the executive director Donald Fehr
  3. Rejecting an interview request with the chief operating officer Gene Orza
  4. Denying a request to interview the director of a Montreal laboratory that analyzes samples
  5. Actively discouraged players from cooperating with Mitchell's investigation
This is a real pity for the players as cooperation with Mitchell could only have benefited them in the long term, and therefore the lack of cooperation by the Players Association to us represents an extremely short-sighted view intended to try to protect themselves from harm. A more mature decision would have been full and transparent cooperation that would help legitimize the players and strengthen their credibility.

"The problem is serious"

Ok, so tell us something we do not know! As obvious as Mitchell's statement sounds, it is an important step in this process. Yes, the pundits and bloggers would all agree, and have all been saying for a long time, that indeed the problem is serious. However we lacked the hard evidence and inside information to back this up. Mitchell's report now goes on the official record and we hope this leads to future steps in the right direction for baseball (and perhaps other sports). Namely, admission by the players and teams that indeed there is a problem is what must occur before the sport takes a serious turn towards cleaning up.

Cycling and baseball both miss the boat in the 1990's

Mitchell identifies the turning point as sometime after the 1988 Summer Olympics when Ben Johnson tested positive. In fact there were many news reports during the 1990's about steroid use in baseball, and as early as 1988 many fans were already jeering Jose Canseco about his alleged steroid (ab)use. So the interesting thing is that as players' power increased and rumours began to make the rounds, baseball found itself in a similar position to pro cycling.

In the peloton during the 1990's the same thing was happening---average speeds were increasing, rumours were lurking, and the media suspected something was up. Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20, yet it is interesting that neither sport moved on these signs and "symptoms." Cycling introduced the 50% Hematocrit rule, which was pretty weak and easily manipulated, and baseball just ignored the problem for as long as it could.

And now the two sports find themselves in equally sticky situations. Wide scale and official reports (Mitchell's report in baseball, and The Operacion Puerto report in cycling) have torn open each sport and exposed its biggest stars.

And now. . .?

The fallout from the Mitchell report is still heavy and sinking in as more and more people read it and analyze its contents. At 409 pages, the full report is a handful, but the executive summary is an excellent place to start and anyone interested should definitely read it (it is only 40 pages). In the weeks and days to come still more bloggers and writers will weigh in on what all of this means, but one thing for certain is that Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB now go in to bat. This is their call to action, and we can only hope they choose to be courageous and think about the long term health of the sport.

As we said, at 409 pages this one is a handful, but join us this week as we try to pick it apart and look at the greater implications not just for baseball, but what something like this means for all of sports. Also, don't forget about the impending IAAF report on Oscar Pistorius, which we wil analyze in full and is due out any day now. Finally, we will run a short series on exercise in the cold, as the northern hemisphere winter is in full swing.

Stay with us for a busy couple of busy weeks ahead!


Ryan said...

Guys, this is a serious scientific question:

How did Barry's head get so big off of steriods??

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hey Ryan

You mean physically, structurally big? Or the metaphorical big?

There are drugs that cause the size of the head to grow - Growth Hormone is one. In fact, one of the tell-tale signs of growth hormone use is a pronounced, over-sized jaw.

If my memory serves me correctly, it has to do with the type of bone in the jaw, and the fact that it can develop and increase in size after most other bone endplates have closed (my osteo-anatomy is a little rusty, sorry!).

But I guess steroids could have the same effect, but definitely growth hormone has that side-effect. I can think of a few track athletes who had these mega-pronounced jaws. Also, another one is fair skin - the guys have skin that is completely without blemish - Bonds looks like a 12-year old (at least, his skind does!)

I would be very surprised if a guy like Bonds, who was using the steroids, was not also using other substances. In my experience, an elite athlete will not stop at one - once they cross the line and accept the use of doping, then they go for it and I highly suspect that he was on a number of substances, in agreement with many reports.

If you meant the metaphorical - well, I guess some guys don't need much help in that regard...!


Ryan said...


Anonymous said...

Fair skin? I always thought that recurring acne was a sign of doping, especially in those who are long past puberty.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Jim

For steroids, yes, acne is a side effect, especially on the back. You saw this with many of the women discus and shot put athletes from Eastern Europe in the 1980's!

But growth hormone improves the skin quality - helps with blemishes and so on. There's a great write-up in a magazine Outside Magazine, written by Stuart Stevens, where he describes his experience with GH, and among them are improved eyesight and scars he'd had as a child suddenly disappeared! GH is also actually used by a lot of movie stars/celebrities, for a variety of reasons, but this is one of them.


Anonymous said...

Outside Magazine article written by Stuart Stevens here....


Andrew T

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Andrew, and thanks for the link to Stuart Stevens most excellent article on performance-enhancing drugs.

We have read it before, and referred to it here on The Science of Sport. It is a great piece and makes for very interesting reading.

We hope more people check it out!

Happy Holidays,