Legacy of Mitchell Report Unclear

The Mitchell Report on the use of steroids by major league players is as fraught a phrase for baseball as the name Pete Rose. NPR's Scott Simon talks with Howard Bryant, Weekend Edition's sports commentator and senior writer for ESPN.com, about what it means to the sport.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for baseball.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: There may be a big, fat asterisk next to all the baseball records since the mid-1990s signifying steroids. This week, former Senator George Mitchell issued his report about the use of steroids in baseball and said that performance-enhancing drugs in the sport have been deep and pervasive.

Our friend Howard Bryant of ESPN.com wrote "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He joins us now from his home. Howard, thanks for being with us.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Senior Writer, ESPN.com; Author, "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball"): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And is baseball different today than it was on Wednesday?

Mr. BRYANT: I don't think so. I don't think baseball is going to be any different than it's been for the last 10 years in terms of attendance, in terms of interest, in terms of the discussion. Where the difference will lie is five, six, seven years from now when these players come up for the Hall of Fame, and then you'll see what this era really meant if you have people like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens who aren't in the Hall of Fame; that will tell you everything you need to know about how this era was interpreted.

SIMON: I want to play a clip from Senator Mitchell's interview with NPR's Robert Siegel on the day that he delivered the report. And Senator Mitchell conceded this.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. GEORGE MITCHELL (Former Democratic Senator, Maine): I do believe that it's a minority of players who used these substances. But I also said, and even emphasized, that it's clear that I didn't learn everything. I don't know every name of every supplier. I don't know the name of every user.

SIMON: So exactly how useful is a report that is acknowledged to be less than comprehensive?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think the sensation of the names was a short-term bombshell. I think, over time, you're going to look at this report and it's going to list more and more and more thin. Number one, it's a three-source report. It's a report about the government. The government had the power to compel certain individuals to talk because they were facing jail time: You have BALCO; you have Brian McNamee, who is Roger Clemens' trainer; you have Kirk Radomskiy, the New York Mets clubhouse assistant who was arrested last year. The information in this report all came from those three sources and newspaper and magazine articles. You didn't have a whole lot of physical evidence in the report. They talk about how there is culpability across the board yet there is no section in this report that details what Commissioner Bud Selig could have done or didn't do…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: …or where his responsibilities lie. It pretty much lays on the players as people thought.

SIMON: Well, let me follow up on that because we, you know, we've necessarily concentrated on the big names like Roger Clemens, but there's some pretty…

Mr. BRYANT: Well, sure.

SIMON: …big names among - because, I mean, Tony La Russa, a great, beloved manager.

Mr. BRYANT: The Tony La Russa who went on "60 Minutes" in the report, and essentially says to George Mitchell that he lied on "60 Minutes" because he wanted to make Jose Canseco look bad because he believed that Canseco was impugning Mark McGwire's reputation. I mean, you're looking at…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: …some of these things and you see some of the front office foibles that…

SIMON: Theo Epstein, the beloved boy wonder general manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Mr. BRYANT: Exactly. To me, Scott, the most important thing or the most revealing thing in the report was looking at the back chatter between the general managers and how much they actually turn their backs from this and what they really, really knew especially because you have Theo Epstein with a e-mail message going back and forth about Gagne - Eric Gagne and his potential steroid use and yet he still signs the guy.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: It's across the board.

SIMON: Well, in the 20 seconds we have left, Howard…

Mr. BRYANT: Yeah, sure.

SIMON: Should there be like a big, fat asterisk that just says the '90s, this was the era of steroids, approach all these stats with suspicion?

Mr. BRYANT: With caution. Yeah. I think there should be - and I think, if nothing else, either they report or Bud Selig over the next few months needs to come out and say something about it. He needs to have a public discussion about the record book.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, our friend from ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine. Thanks so much.

Mr. BRYANT: Thank you.

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