DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,

Say It Ain't So...

Paulie Lo Duca, Mr. Heart and Soul himself, is front and center among those named in the Mitchell Report. Sigh.

Read the entire report, all 409 double spaced pages. It is both depressing and unsatisfying. Depressing on how widespread the corruption was/is, and unsatisfying on how little of it Mitchell actually documents. The corruption includes both the malefaction of players and trainers and the apparently deliberate incompetence of the teams and MLB in response to it. It appears that Mitchell has only documented the tip of the iceberg here. Current players, with the exception of Jason Giambi, uniformly refused to speak to Mitchell. Most of the information comes from the three anthills that federal investigators have kicked over so far, BALCO, Signature Compounding Pharmacy, and Kirk Radomski. Thus you see some of the trees, but not necessarily the entire forest.

The reports starts with a summary of the health effects of steroids and related compounds, as well as human growth hormone. One of the interesting things here is that players appear to be turning to HGH since there is currently no valid test for it, but that it doesn't actually work very well in terms of building muscle mass. It does appear to promote tissue repair when recovering from injury, although that is not currently a legal reason for its prescription.

The next section documents baseball's development of its drug policy, going back to 1970. Much of that development involved clashes with the Players Association over exactly what disciplinary actions the Commissioner could impose on players caught using drugs. It is noted that the MLBPA opposed drug testing for many years. On the other hand, it also notes that MLB didn't push particularly hard for drug testing, either.

There is a long summary of the development of awareness of the problem by the league, starting with allegations about Jose Canseco and Lenny Dykstra around 1991. This section is notable for how incredibly dense MLB management appears in the face of mounting evidence of steroid use. (I can remember discussing it with a bodybuilder friend of mine around '91, and he was of the opinion that it was obvious that some players were juicing.) Upper management appear to have been in total denial for years in the face of mounting evidence. It was only when a reporter noticed the bottle of androstenedione in Mark McGwire's locker during his chase of Roger Maris's home run record that MLB seemed to start looking seriously at steroids. The irony here is that at the time andro was completely legal, both to purchase without a prescription and for use by baseball players. Even so, when a prominent physician tried to warn baseball of the dangers of the supplement, he clains to have been threatened with legal action by MLB's medical director. Canseco is the focus for a lot of this, and it's interesting to see Tony LaRussa keep changing his story on what he knew about Canseco's use of steroids, and when he knew it.

Then it's on to the meat of the matter. First the report details a number of specific incidents over the years where individual players were discovered to be either in the possession of steroids, or failed drug tests. A number of these went apparently went unreported to MLB as not being a big deal. Several teams are mentioned, including the Indians, Rangers, and Red Sox, and there is one cluster involving several Baltimore Orioles, most notably Rafael Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada.

The BALCO investigation comes next, and since it has already had books written about it, that cluster of names mostly from the Bay Area teams were already well known (Barry Bonds, the Giambi brothers, Gary Sheffield, and some lesser lights). The thing that surprised me here is how deep into a dark place the upper levels of management of the Giants stuck their heads to avoid angering their golden goose (Bonds). The buck about what to do about Bonds and his personal trainer kept getting passed from head trainer to GM to owner and back again, but no one ever seemed to have the gumption to stop it.

The largest section details the results of the Kirk Radomski investigation. Radomski worked in the Mets clubhouse, and sold steroids and HGH to an impressive list of players. The meat here is that Radomski kept copies of checks, notes, and shipment receipts for many of the players, resulting some very good circumstantial evidence. There are several clusters of players here, the result of the way players move around. It starts with the Mets, but there are few Met players named. I saw one online speculation that perhaps there were so few Mets on the list because of their proximity to Radomski. Drugs and cash were both hand-delivered, so there was no paper trail to back up any accusations Radomski may have have. The most prominent ex-Met named is catcher Todd Hundley. Hundley was labeled a can't miss prospect by the Mets, but his first few seasons were very disappointing. Then around 1995 he suddenly blossomed into one heck of a hitter, hitting 41 homers in 1996, setting the single season record for record for catchers. It turns out this was when he started buying steroids from Radomski. Two years later, injured and not getting along with manager Bobby Valentine, he was shipped to the Dodgers. As someone over at Dodger Thoughts remarked, there he became patient zero for a cluster of Dodger players, most notably Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagné. (The Dodgers got Hundley because a moronic suit from Fox decided to trade Mike Piazza not long before. Don't get me started.)

The Dodger story is very strange. Hundley apparently hooked Lo Duca up with Radomski. There is testimony in the report from the man who was the strength and conditioning coach at the Dodgers' AAA team at the time (May 1999) stating that he provided steroids to Lo Duca and several other Dodger prospects, all of whom were hoping to improve their chances of being called up to the big team. (I remember watching Lo Duca play in spring training games in '99, and not being very impressed. I was very surprised when he became a star a couple of years later.) Lo Duca did become a star, one of the two main faces of the franchise, the so-called heart and soul of the team. Thus his trade to the Marlins in the middle of the 2004 season was met with a great deal of consternation among a lot of Dodger fans. The main reason given for the was to shore up the starting pitching (which it ultimately did), but it was also curious because the trade left the Dodgers with no reliable catcher right in the middle of a pennant race. The report may shed some light on that. One of the documents obtained by Mitchell is a set of notes from a Dodger organizational meeting in October 2003 where the future of a number of players was discussed, including Lo Duca:

Steroids aren’t being used anymore on him. Big part of this. Might have some value to trade . . . Florida might have interest. . . . Got off the steroids . . . Took away a lot of hard line drives. . . . Can get comparable value back would consider trading. . . . If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That’s
year of contract, playing for '05.

It turned out to be prophetic. Paulie sent another check to Radomski not long after the trade.

Lo Duca is a guy who a lot of fans really like because he plays with fire and spirit. The media like him because he's always available to chat with, even in tough circumstances. But he is also not the brightest bulb on the tree. He played for the Mets the past couple of years, and he got himself in trouble a couple of times for refusing to back down in arguments with umpires, leading to suspensions. He also got caught by the tabloids cheating on his wife with a nineteen year-old. The most interesting pieces of paper in the Radomski paper trail are from Lo Duca. In addition to checks, and the thank you note shown in the picture, there's a hand written note to Radomski:

Sorry! But for some reason they sent the check back to me. I haven’t been able to call you back because my phone is TOAST! I have a new # it is [Lo Duca’s phone number is listed here]. Please leave your # again because I lost all of my phonebook with the other phone.


The reports also includes a quote made by Lo Duca in a 2002 Sports Illustrated article on steroids:

"If you’re battling for a
job, and the guy you’re battling with is using steroids, then maybe you say, ‘Hey, to compete,
I need to use steroids because he’s using them . . . Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone it. But
it’s a very tough situation. It’s really all about survival for some guys."

The notes from the 10/2003 meeting seem to indicate that the Dodgers were trying to avoid players with steroid histories, with one notable exception—Eric Gagné. Gagné, of course, was the other main face of the franchise, the man called "Game Over." He apparently got involved with Radomski through Lo Duca. He is mentioned in the 10/2003 notes as a possible user, but he was also in the midst of his 84 straight save streak at the time, so it was unlikely in the extreme that the team would do anything about it. Don't ask, don't tell. The most curious thing about Gagné in the report one of the Red Sox scouts sent to Theo Epstein last winter in response to Theo's questioning whether Gagné was on steroids.

Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue. Has had a checkered medical past throughout career including minor leagues. Lacks the poise and commitment to stay healthy, maintain body and re invent self. What made him a tenacious closer was the max effort plus stuff . . . Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the changeup to play as it once did . . . Personally, durability (or lack of) will follow Gagne . . .

I can't argue with a single thing in that statement. Gagné is a big dumb lug who has repeatedly either hidden injuries or tried to come back from them too soon, doing even more damage to himself in the process. The amazing thing is that the Sox eventually went ahead and traded for him anyway.

The Radomski cluster of players getting most of the attention are the Yankees, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, et al. Clemens now makes a nice bookend with Bonds, two thoroughly dislikeable, though superlatively talented individuals who deserve every bad thing coming to them. The funniest thing in all this is that Clemens is apparently not fond of needles, which means he had to get someone to inject the stuff for him. There are a few other clusters, too, and it's interesting to follow the connections between them—Mets to Dodgers, Athletics and Rangers to Baltimore, and so on.

There's a little bit on the Signature Pharmacy case, where a number of players were found to be purchasing HGH from a pharmacy in Florida. All had prescriptions, but unfortunately for the players, many of the prescriptions were written by a Florida dentist. This is what got Carlos Guillen and Jay Gibbons 15 game suspensions for next season.

The rest of the report talks about testing for steroids, and concludes that the current program is inadequate. Mitchell cites seven points required for an adequate system:

1. independence of the program administrator;
2. transparency and accountability;
3. effective, year-round, unannounced testing;
4. adherence to best practices as they develop;
5. due process for athletes;
6. adequate funding; and
7. a robust education program;

none of which appear to be met at this time. The biggest problems appear to be items 2 and 3. There is neither transparency nor accountability. From the report:

In August 2006, I requested summaries of aggregate, de-identified data relating to
the administration of Major League Baseball’s joint program. For the years 2003 through 2005,
the majority of the records necessary to compile this data already had been destroyed. Even for
the then-ongoing 2006 season, we were advised that the records necessary to respond to certain
requests had not been retained.

That's just unacceptable if you want the public to have any confidence in the system. As far as "unannounced testing" goes, it is too easily manipulated under the current system. The report cites instances of players receiving notice they are to be tested 24-72 hours prior to the event. There is also an especially egregious example of the Players Association gaming the system in 2004. It involved an unlikely to be repeated set of circumstances, but it still looks really bad.

I was surprised. I didn't expect it to be as interesting as it was. There is quite a lot of stuff I didn't know, even among the stuff previously available. For the most part, I think Mitchell did a good job, particularly regarding his recommendations for testing. I would've liked to see a little more candor on the part of the players themselves, but I supposed that's too much to ask. Again and again one sees the line, "In order to provide [player name] with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me; he declined." The few ex-players that did speak with Mitchell added much to the report. Chris Donnells, another ex-Met and Dodger, in particular provided a detailed recounting of his involvement with both steroids and HGH. That was perhaps the best look at what it's like for the player involved, both from the standpoint of what he was doing, and also why.

I did say the report was unsatisfying, and that's because one knows that there have got to be other clusters and networks of players out there that have yet to be uncovered. The way players move around makes it unlikely that this is all there is.

Tags: baseball, books

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