MLB Report: Illegal Drug Use Widespread

Nearly 90 former and current Major League Baseball players were linked to banned performance-enhancing drugs, including stars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. A report by former Sen. George Mitchell says there was "a collective failure" in the sport to deal with steroids.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Depending on who you ask, Major League Baseball this morning is cleansed and hopeful, or just deeper in despair. Former Senator George Mitchell released his report on performance enhancing drug use in baseball yesterday. Nearly 90 former and current players were linked to banned drugs, and the list includes Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers in history, and Andy Pettitte as well.

We have more this morning from NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN: Breathless anticipation and speculation finally gave way at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time to a kindly 74-year-old man with the goods. Former Senator George Mitchell stepped up to a microphone smiling, at ease. Reporters in the audience tried to speed-read his whopper of a report 409 pages long. As Mitchell began, his smile vanished and he offered a broad brushstroke of what he uncovered.

Mr. GEORGE MITCHELL (Former Democratic Senator, Maine): Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades - commissioners, club officials, the players association, the players - shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on.

GOLDMAN: A sobering revelation, but one wonders how many heard it in the frantic rush to page 167, the money page containing the most prominent of the names named in the Mitchell Report. Forty-five-year-old Roger Clemens is the best pitcher of his era, winner of seven Cy Young Awards. And now here was his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, saying that he, McNamee, injected steroids into Clemens buttocks several times during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Yesterday, Clemens's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told NPR Clemens is shocked by McNamee's allegations.

Mr. RUSTY HARDIN (Attorney): He adamantly denies what is in the report or any of the allegations about having used these performance enhancing substances or drugs or whatever we call them. He's very disappointed that they chose to put his name in there based on just the uncorroborated allegation of a guy who until this year had adamantly denied any of this.

GOLDMAN: According to the report, McNamee cooperated with Mitchell to avoid possible criminal prosecution. The report also quotes McNamee as saying he injected another star pitcher, Andy Pettitte, with human growth hormone in 2002. Pettitte, through his attorney, declined to comment.

The Mitchell Report lists many other players, from stars to the not so famous. Some or all will, like Clemens, say they're innocent regardless. Inclusion in the report smudges their reputations. And Mitchell hopes it ends there. Yesterday, he urged baseball commissioner Bud Selig not to discipline the players named unless the transgressions were really serious.

Mr. MITCHELL: Spending more months or even years in contentious disciplinary proceedings will keep everyone mired in the past.

GOLDMAN: But in a later press conference in which Bud Selig generally heaped praise on Mitchell's work, the commissioner said he will consider taking action against the active players in the report linked to drugs.

Mr. BUD SELIG (Commissioner, Major League Baseball): I'm going to review his findings and the factual support for those findings. And punishment will then be determined on a case by case basis.

GOLDMAN: Selig said he was eager to act on Mitchell's many recommendations, such as increasing the frequency and random nature of drug testing and putting the drug testing program in the hands of an independent agency. Selig was less eager to accept blame for allowing the steroid era to flourish. He evaded a question about it.

At his press conference, players union head Donald Fehr came a lot close to admitting culpability. Fehr talked about how the players had recognized that new steps were required to address drug use in baseball.

Mr. DONALD FEHR (MLB Players Association): Perhaps we and the owners could have taken these steps sooner. And for my part, in hindsight that seems obvious.

GOLDMAN: The future is not so obvious. The Mitchell Report supplied answers, but at the end of a wrenching day for baseball, there were even more questions. What will happen to the players named? Will moving forward trying to adopt Mitchell's recommendations trigger a new war between the owners and players union? And how will the paying public react? That answer may be out there already. This year, with baseball and drugs a daily topic in the media, Major League Baseball set a new attendance record for the fourth straight year and had revenues of $6 billion.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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