Levelling playing field

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

As D-Day for the Mitchell Report approaches, it gets more and more difficult to see this document as an earth-shaking event destined to rock the baseball world.

Lacking any real investigative teeth, Senator George Mitchell's 21-month scavenger hunt into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball is unlikely to have unearthed many shocking new facts. But, even lacking spectacular revelations, it still can be an effective document for the future.

For the most part, the public doesn't need to be beaten over the head: It knows that ball players have been cheating with steroids and human growth hormone and lord knows what else for the past couple of decades. Given that the Mitchell investigators are believed to have spoken only to one active player -- Jason Giambi -- and have been forced to rely on second and third-hand anecdotal evidence for a lot of their material, there is unlikely to be much hard new evidence presented.

We are hearing dribs and drabs of comment from people who did speak to the Mitchell investigators and, quite frankly, they don't provide much more than personal observations. Mitchell might be able to draw some broad assumptions from what he has been told but to focus in on individuals for punishment without incriminating evidence is a stretch.

Jack Armstrong is a pitcher who spent seven years in the big leagues with four different teams from 1988-1994, and who started the 1990 All-Star Game for the National League and picked up a World Series win the same year. He happily sang like a bird to Mitchell but, once again, has provided only anecdotal evidence. He saw no needles, he told the New York Daily News, but maintains that 20-30% of his contemporaries were "juicing in a big way" and that "60-80%" were occasional users who were able to maintain a slight edge pharmaceutically.

He wants the Mitchell Report to come down like a ton of bricks on the offenders.

"It's time to call the rats out," Armstrong said. "The guys who did this are cheaters -- and that's the bottom line. They are people who made tens of millions of dollars doing something they weren't supposed to do, at the expense of guys who were doing things the right way.

"Business is business -- buyer beware and all that. But sports is supposed to be the one place where everything is fair when you cross the line, but that isn't the case."

Maybe so, but it's difficult to imagine a careful lawyer like Mitchell, no matter how well motivated, jumping from a-to-z without hitting all the necessary evidentiary steps in between.

Armstrong says he was motivated to testify by the fact he has a son pitching in high school now who has a chance to be a big-leaguer some day.

"I wouldn't even be opening my mouth if I didn't have my son coming along," Armstrong said. "I'd just do my training and teaching, drive the kids around and live my life in obscurity, same as I always have. (But) when you have children and you care about them, you want to make sure the playing field is level. You tell your kids to do the things the right way -- to hustle and work hard and eat right -- and you want it to pay off the way you tell them it will."

That's where the Mitchell Report may be most effective. Rather than try to shock us with the tales of dirt on player after player, the report might be more effective as a starting point for recovery of the sport and by outlining ways to make sure the scourge of drugs is removed from the game.

Former Northern California States Attorney Kevin Ryan, who sleuthed out the infamous BALCO investigation has provided information to Mitchell but says that the list of players' names that surely will accompany the report is not going to be its most important legacy. That will come from the recommendations for the future.

"Players have to police the locker room," Ryan said. "Put it back on the players. If someone tests positive, you forfeit a game and your teammates lose post-season money. The dynamic has to change for people to come forward to talk about it.

"It comes back to the honour system: You're not supposed to cheat."

In this case, the honour system is going to need a little nudge from Mitchell. Okay, a big nudge.


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