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Is George Mitchell the man for the Steroid Investigation?

30th March 2006

As discussed on Monday, Commissioner Selig and Major League baseball will begin an investigation into Barry Bonds, as well as other players, that have surfaced through the book Game of Shadows as allegedly using steroids, possibly before and after MLB implemented testing of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) starting in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (PDF) brokered in 2002.

Selig will make the announcement today at 2pm EST.

The question is, who will head the investigation? UPDATE: Mitchell has been selected

ESPN reported last night that former Senate Majority Leader from Maine, George Mitchell would be heading up the investigation, but that may have been premature.

Murray Chass of the NY Times is reporting today that MLB will request (or may have already) Mitchell head up the investigation, but it is unclear as to whether he will accept the role. The other name mentioned is former head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, should Mitchell decline to take on the investigation.

What is clear is that no one within MLB wanted the task, and is looking for an independent investigation. Given the extremely difficult task at hand, it’s no wonder.

As Chass duly noted in his article, this is a far different task than the last major independent investigation conducted during Fay Vincent’s tenure, Pete Rose and his gambling on baseball. In that instance, John Dowd only had Rose as the focal point. In this investigation Mitchell will have to spread the net far wider than just Barry Bonds as there have been numerous players mentioned in not just Game of Shadows, but other recent books, as well. Certainly Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield would be investigated along with Bonds, but if the investigation gets into steroid use in baseball from a proactive sense, then it’s entirely possible that Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Raphael Palmeiro could be looked at, as well.

The question is, is George John Mitchell the man for the investigation? At least from MLB’s perspective the answer is yes.

If the question is about whether Mitchell would be wholly independent, that may be a different story.

Mitchell is someone that has been intimately connected with politics, both at home and abroad. He also has been someone acutely connected to Major League Baseball, as well. Mitchell served on the Commissioner’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics (PDF) in July 2000. Here is what is listed as Mitchell’s bio within that report:

Senator George J. Mitchell was appointed to the United States Senate in 1980 to complete the unexpired term of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, who resigned to become Secretary of State. Mitchell was elected to a full term in the Senate in 1982 and was re-elected in 1988 with 81 percent of the vote, the largest margin in Maine history. Senator Mitchell served in the Senate for 14 years, including six as the Senate Majority Leader.Senator Mitchell received his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in 1954,and then served in Berlin Germany as an officer in the United States Army until 1956. He received an LL.B degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1960. From 1960 to 1962, he was a trial lawyer in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. From 1962 to 1965, he served as Executive Assistant to Senator Muskie.

In 1965, Senator Mitchell returned to Maine where he engaged in the private practice of law until 1977. He was then appointed United States Attorney for Maine, a position he held until 1979, when he was appointed United States District Judge for Maine. He resigned that position in 1980 to accept appointment to the United States Senate.

Upon leaving the Senate, Senator Mitchell joined the Washington, D.C. law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand. He serves as a director of The Walt Disney Company, FedEx Corporation, Xerox Corporation, UNUMProvident Corporation, Casella Waste Systems, Inc., Unilever, Staples, Inc., and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Senator Mitchell serves as the Chancellor of the Queens University of Northern
Ireland and as the President of the Economic Club of Washington. He served as Chairman of the Special Commission investigating allegations of impropriety in the bidding process for the Olympic games; as Chairman of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of crises in
international affairs; and as Chairman of the National Health Care Commission.

Recently Senator Mitchell served as Chairman of the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Under his leadership an historic accord, ending decades of conflict, was agreed to by the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom and the political parties of Northern Ireland. In May 1998, the Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by the voters of Ireland, North and South, in a referendum.

The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress adds this:

Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland (1995-2000); chairman, Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact-Finding Committee to examine crisis in Middle East (2000-2001); engaged in the practice of law in Washington, D.C. (1995-); awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on March 17, 1999.

As I mentioned, Mitchell served on the Blue Ribbon Panel in 2000, and he currently is an Officer with the title of Director for the Red Sox. Given his background, he may be too close to the subject. His ties to Disney, and by extension, ESPN, may be an issue. Also, Mitchell is the chairman of Piper Rudnick, which has an active sports arm, including partners that have been directly involved in stadium negoations on behalf of MLB and various cities.

Two of their lawyers, CB Peter Bynoe and Lou Cohen, advised the DC Council during the the difficult negotiations in DC for the Washington Nationals deal, and represented the Virginia Stadium Commission back when the league was targeting Northern Virginia during the Expos relocation derby.

I have been hearing that John Dowd views the selection as poor given Mitchell’s tight relationship with MLB.

There’s also the small matter of Mitchell’s past consideration for the position of comissioner.

While Selig was running baseball under the “acting commissioner” title, Mitchell was mentioned as the favorite to land the commissioner’s position. As Steve Marantz of the Sporting News reported on 6/31/94:

Two summers ago, shortly after Fay Vincent’s forced resignation, Mitchell experienced an epiphany. It occurred while the Senate was locked in an all-night filibuster. He later told the Bowdoin College alumni magazine that he was struck by a thought: “What an I doing here? Why am I doing this? I’m going to be 60 next year and is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Mitchell recalled speculating on what he would do if he were not in the Senate. “I said …’I just think I’ll be commissioner of baseball, get paid several hundred thousand dollars more a year, watch baseball games and I won’t have to stay up all night listening to Senator D’Amato.”His musings were not groundless. One of the owners first broached the commissioner’s job to Mitchell in 1990, he told the magazine. In December 1992, interim commissioner Bud Selig was in Washington for Sen. Howard Metzenbaum’s hearings on baseball’s antitrust exemption. Mitchell and Selig talked about the vacant commissioner’s job.

[snip]

“It’s important to be somebody who is not taking the job as a steppingstone but wants to be in baseball,” White Sox Owner Jerry Reinsdorf says.

Others might object because Mitchell has no business experience in marketing or communications, both vital to baseball’s future.

“If we were to hire a commissioner based on what we thought he could do on Capitol Hill we’d be making a mistake,” Reinsdorf says. “We have to hire somebody good in all areas. We have more problems than just the Hill.”

Another reason is that the owners might decide they feel comfortable with the current arrangement: interim commissioner Bud Selig presiding over an executive committee.

“We’ve accomplished more since we haven’t had a commissioner than in that last 10 years,” Reinsdorf says.

Says Selig: “George Mitchell is a master consensus builder. But you don’t necessarily need a politician to build consensus. People build consensus in all facets of life. We’ve had a rule-by-committee for 21 months. We’ve analyzed every problem. You need to find a consensus, but you need a gut-level understanding of the problems first.”

Given this background, Mitchell fits baseball’s workings like a glove. Although, Mitchell might find dealing with the IRA and the politics in Northern Ireland an easier go than this investigation.

The reasons are simple. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, there seems little MLB can do with any damning results. As Chass outlines today, “It’s unclear what Selig could or would do if an investigation confirmed published reports of Bonds’s use of steroids. Because baseball had not specifically outlawed steroids in the years Bonds was suspected of using them, could Selig take belated action against him? Could he act under the best-interests-of-baseball clause and order some of Bonds’s achievements stricken from the records?

“If an investigation is not completed by the time Bonds hits No. 756, should his total be recorded in the records books in disappearing ink?”

Mitchell seems the most capable and best selection from MLB’s perspective. Whether he is the right selection, period, may be another question. If “independent” is what you are looking for, then Mitchell may not be the best choice.

2 Responses to “Is George Mitchell the man for the Steroid Investigation?”

  1. RJM17 Says:

    No subpoena power
    No Grand Jury authority
    No independence from baseball
    No investigation

  2. Baseball Prospectus | Unfiltered Says:

    [...] George Mitchell has been in the background, but at some point you knew he’d surface. The former Senator from Maine was selected nine months ago to head up an independent investigation into steroid use in baseball. Whether Mitchell is truly an independent selection, and right for the investigation had been a matter of discussion. After all, Mitchell had been part of the 2000 Blue Ribbon Panel, and is currently an Officer with the title of Director for the Red Sox. To add to this, Mitchell has ties to Disney—ergo, ESPN. [...]