Tip of the iceberg

KEN FIDLIN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Six days into its shelf life, the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball has produced outraged commentary, outright denials, a couple of mea culpas and a yawn from the bleachers.

While the baseball industry generally has its knickers in a knot trying to get the proper spin on the crisis as to bend the will of the people, it seems the peoples' will is, as usual, immune.

According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, 83% of respondents said they were not at all surprised by the report's findings of "a serious drug culture in baseball from top to bottom."

In other words, the people, with a healthy dose of cynicism on their side, are saying to Mitchell: "Tell us something we don't already know."

What that speaks to is the dirty little secret at the heart of the issue: for the better part of two decades, the entire industry -- from the commissioner to the union bosses to the various club front offices, to the managers to the players to the kid who cleans the players' shoes -- has known that steroids have been deeply entrenched but didn't have the will or the stones to do anything about it.

Mitchell's sleuths came up with 90 names of players who they believe were users. They had enough confidence in their evidence to put those names in the report.

They did that without any real power whatsoever and almost no cooperation from anyone in the game. Can you imagine, then, the real depth of the drug scourge?

The names in the report are just the ones who were careless enough to have been caught. What about the others? And be absolutely certain: there are others.

We will never know who, or how many there are, just that the ones who have been exposed are simply the tip of the iceberg.

Mitchell had to produce names to get peoples' attention but, it says here, there is little value in punishing the few for the sins of the many. What's most important is the future.

There are no heroes in this story.

The whistle-blowers all had ulterior motives: revenge, jail time reductions and, in Jose Canseco's case, book sales. But many's the crook who has been sent to the slammer on the say-so of a low-life stoolie. Without them, Mitchell's report would have been a tad threadbare.

Even the players who stayed clean have been soiled by their own silence. They're as guilty as the cheats.

For years they should have been in union boss Don Fehr's face, pounding on his desk for justice. Given the morbidity rates inherent in steroid and HGH use, there is an argument to be made for gross negligence on the part of the Players' Association for stonewalling all those years in the name of spiralling salaries being earned by stars committed to the almighty juice.

And where were all the clean players when Mitchell called, asking for input? Hiding in the bushes with the cheats.

So they don't get to chirp now and point fingers after the fact. They had their chance to make a difference and anything they have to say now is just piling on.

The Mitchell Report included a roadmap for the future and those recommendations are, to be honest, the most useful items in the 400-page tome.

If anyone -- the union, the commissioner, the team owners -- thinks they can get away without massive, sweeping changes in the way they administer their drug enforcement, then they are even bigger dolts than the public already believes them to be.

The first order of business is to farm out the testing procedure to an independent third party such as the World Anti-Doping Agency and expand the program to include 365-day random testing.

WADA is not perfect but it's still the gold standard when it comes to independent drug testing. What's important is that the procedure be above suspicion.

Next on the order of importance are stiffer and prohibitive penalties. Year-long suspensions for starters, with lifetime bans for second-offenders. Harsh? Sure. But anything short of zero tolerance leaves the athletes still open to temptation.

The only value this investigation really has is to serve as ground zero for the future.

The game has to come clean, forget its ugly past and make sure the drug era is truly behind it.

At that point, maybe even the public will shocked.


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