Mitchell Report can help provide a cure

Mitchell Report can provide a cure

The Mitchell Report, the 311-page documentation of a 20-month probe into the use of performance-enhancing substances in Major League Baseball, is a star vehicle. Names, some of them very big, were also stars who attracted attention.

But beyond the medium of titillation, the message was redemption. Like on any other stage, the players, all with bit parts in the grand scheme, aren't as important as the play.

That was the theme delivered by former Sen. George Mitchell, who repeatedly urged baseball to "look to the future," and also amplified by the international sports doping expert on his investigative team.

Professor Richard McLaren, the only speaker other than Sen. Mitchell at Thursday afternoon's news conference, understood and strove to deflect the public's fascination with the 89 players named in the Report.

"From my experiences," McLaren said, "the first thing people will do is direct attention to the names in the Report, and that's a natural thing to do.

"But baseball and the public should quickly move beyond that and focus attention on the [Report's] recommendations -- which are exactly what baseball needs to remove the sting of performance-enhancing substances from the game."

A Canadian native, McLaren is a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, but that wasn't the capacity which elicited an invitation to join the probe from Sen. Mitchell, who certainly is surrounded by plenty of other legal minds.

McLaren is a respected expert on the global topic of sports and illegal performance-enhancers, with a thick resume. Most recently, he arbitrated Floyd Landis' controversial Tour de France doping case. McLaren has also represented the International Court of Arbitration for Sport at several major international events, including the 1998 and '06 Winter Olympics, the 2000 and '04 Summer Olympics and the 2002 English Commonwealth Games.

Most relevant, McLaren was chairman of the international commission that in 2000-01 reviewed the United States Track and Field Association's drug-testing methods, and it subsequently forced changes.

Thus, it is significant that McLaren joined the Mitchell team only recently, after it had concluded most of the field work into the past and was ready to propose recommendations for the future.

McLaren was the ideal voice to stress future progress over people, present or past.

"Being chained to the past," Mitchell said, "is not helpful."

In McLaren's view, the Mitchell Report must be a "springboard to increase public awareness of this serious problem, how it affects not only sports, but our children."

Since the Mitchell Report's release, many responsible voices within the game sounded a similar chord: The need to turn the report's names into textbook entries, into lessons of the past to teach the future and our youth.

Toronto president and CEO Paul Godfrey spoke most eloquently about the need to move beyond the names to nurturing a healthier future.

"One of the major points that Sen. Mitchell made is the concern about going forward," Godfrey said. "If we spend so many days, weeks and months, if not years, trying to catch everyone that did something in the past, this dark cloud that exists over Major League Baseball about the use of anabolic steroids or amphetamines or human growth hormones [HGH], is just going to continue to play havoc with the game."

Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, who five days earlier had signed a pitcher, Eric Gagne, whose steroids trail was laid bare by the Mitchell Report, is eager to move on.

"Sen. Mitchell said his intent was not to look into names. The intent was to put in recommendations for a system that works so baseball doesn't go through this again," Melvin said. "That's what it's about."

"When you look at the events of [Thursday], it's really something that was done for a positive impact, not just in baseball but in society," said St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "That press conference ... they were trying to address today's youth, that's the important message."

"We hope that Senator Mitchell's Report provides an opportunity for all who love baseball to refocus their attention, with the greatest confidence possible, to the game on the field," said Padres club president Sandy Alderson.

That is everyone's hope, and it is the objective of the Report recommendations formulated by Sen. Mitchell with McLaren's assistance.

In the professor's view, the dozen-plus recommendations boil down to three significant thrusts:

Independence: "I think [an] important step is get it out of the control of the parties and put it into an independent agency," McLaren said.

Autonomy: "Set up an investigation process, because that's really the only way you're going to deal with HGH and probably other substances that we're not even aware of because there's no testing system in the world that will catch HGH," the professor said.

"Those enabling athletes to cheat are always devising substances which are difficult to detect. Designer steroids that are difficult to detect using current techniques continue to be developed.

"Professional athletes go to great lengths to mask their use of illegal substances. You must aggressively investigate allegations of substance violations, by investigators who report directly to the president of baseball. It is the way to earn the public's confidence that baseball is acting vigilantly."

Transparency: "The testing process has to be transparent, enabling the public to judge its integrity. There has to be adequate, unannounced year-round testing, so players are always at risk in and out of competition."

At his post-Mitchell media conference, Commissioner Bud Selig pledged to embrace all of the recommendations, those his office can implement unilaterally and those that must be negotiated with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Contrary to the concerns of many, MLBPA executive president Donald M. Fehr later did not sound like he wanted to pick a fight.

"Senator Mitchell recommends certain changes in our program," Fehr said. "We will review and consider what he has to say. We have demonstrated a willingness to continue to improve the program, and the program itself allows for certain midterm modifications."

The Mitchell Report assigns blame equally to MLB and the MLBPA, but places more emphasis on the need to cooperate on a cure. After all, in the grand scheme, "Selig" and "Fehr" are just two more of those players less important than the play.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.